Thursday, March 15, 2018

Court Finds That Case Challenging South Carolina's Disturbing Schools Law Should Move Forward

A video of law enforcement officer  pulling a student out of her chair by the neck and dragging her across the floor when viral in October 2015.  It led to a lot of serious questions about the authority under which an officer could take such aggressive action against a student, particularly one just sitting in her seat.  The answer in South Carolina, where the incident took place, is the state's Disturbing Schools Law.  The law states that:

It shall be unlawful: (1) for any person willfully or unnecessarily (a) to interfere with or to disturb in any way or in any place the students or teachers of any school or college in this State, (b) to loiter about such school or college premises or (c) to act in an obnoxious manner thereon; or (2) for any person to (a) enter upon any such school or college premises or (b) loiter around the premises, except on business, without the permission of the principal or president in charge.

The state also tacks a disorderly conduct law on top of this one.  In fact, Niya Kenny, who was present during the incident above, was arrested and taken to a detention center.  By her account, she simply spoke up against the officer’s actions.  “I was in disbelief and I started praying out loud. I said, ‘Isn’t anyone going to help her?’” 

The ACLU sued the state on behalf of Kenny and several others, asking that the state be barred from enforcing the law in the future.  The district court dismissed the case, reasoning that "fear of future arrest and prosecution under the two statutes does not rise above speculation and thus does not constitute an injury in fact."

In a major victory, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals just reversed the district court, saying the case can move forward.  The state was already considering changing the statute, but this new ruling will only add pressure for the state to act.

Read the full opinion here: Download 2018-03-15 Written order 4th Circuit

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