Curious students and staff gathered in the Little Theatre for Constitution Day to hear College Democrats and College Republicans debate various Supreme Court cases on Thursday, Sept. 17.
Three participants from each organization argued for and against the cases which all involve student rights. This debate was a part of the “Participate in ’09” program.
\Up first for debate was Morse v. Frederick, a case from 2007, which challenged the First Amendment. A high school student was suspended for bringing a controversial sign to an event. The school had gone to watch the Olympic torch be passed, and the student held a sign reading “Bong Hits for Jesus.” Following a school suspension, he went to court stating that the principal stifled his freedom of speech.
Republican representative James Pickel explained why the high school student should have been punished.
Mark Peterson, the democratic representative, provided the rebuttal, saying he felt as though the student’s sign was making a statement.
“There’s a social phenomenon between religion and drug use,” he said. “To say that that promotes drug use borders on absurd. It [the sign] didn’t say ‘bong hits for students!”
Another case argued was New Jersey v. T.L.O from 1985. Since the prosecutor was a minor, the name was kept private.
The case was brought to the Supreme Court when a high school student thought she was subject to unreasonable search and seizure. The prosecutor and her friend were caught smoking cigarettes in the school bathroom.
T.L.O.’s friend admitted to smoking, but T.L.O. denied it. The principal then took the student’s purse and searched it. In addition to cigarettes, he also found rolling papers and marijuana. The cops were notified, and charges were brought against the student.
The following question was raised: Does the Fourth Amendment (unreasonable search and seizure) apply in a school setting?Republican representative Meaghen Mapes and democratic representative Nayyar Ali Waheed presented opposing sides.
In the case of Hazelwood School District et al. v. Kuhlmeier et al. from 1988, a principal forced students to omit two articles that he deemed inappropriate from a student paper. The controversial issues were divorce and teen pregnancy.
Republican representative Corey Fanelli felt that the principle took the right course of action.
“The paper was written for a journalism class, and it was not the proper forum for student expression,” he said.
Fanelli said he thought the principal was executing his right to “protect and preserve value of a social order.”
“Fourteen year-old freshmen,” said he added, “do not need to read these types of articles.”
Democratic representative Thomas Olick related the case to the University’s student newspaper.
“The Torch is an award winning tool here,” he said. “When something is going on at St. John’s I do see it in the Torch.”
Olick was also critical of the principal’s actions in silencing the student writers. “Censorship is a very dangerous thing and should be used as a last resort,” he said.
Olick questioned the use of the word “inappropriate” in the case, stating that what is inappropriate is subjective.
The debates also served as an introduction for Michael Simons, the new dean of the St. John’s Law School.
“The constitution is the repository of our shared values,” he said. “Being able to debate is one of the great things about our democracy.”
Simons expressed how impressed he was in the outcome of the debates.
“Both sides argued their cases very well,” he said. “It was interesting in all three cases the republicans were arguing that the Supreme Court got it right, the democrats that they got it wrong. So as it stands, the law is on the side of the republicans.”
Audience member Brandon Prescott said he felt that both sides did an exceptional job at communicating their points.
“Each side had good points and described their topics well. Even though they had conflicting points, they came together,” he said.