When Justice Samuel Alito agreed with other members of the Supreme Court that a school principal could constitutionally prohibit a student from holding up a sign with the words “Bong Hits for Jesus,” he thought that the prohibition was limited to speech about illegal drugs. He was wrong. One year later, federal courts have expanded Morse v. Frederick far beyond its facts to include restrictions on student speech advocating illegal conduct and speech threatening school safety. This article suggests that the expansion of Morse has two causes. The first is the Court’s opinion itself. The second is what this article has labeled the “Columbine factor.”
One way to characterize Supreme Court opinions is to divide them into principled or ad hoc. Principled opinions provide lower courts with guidance. Ad hoc opinions are harder to apply in the future and leave lower federal courts with little guidance. The Supreme Court opinion in Morse v. Frederick is an ad hoc opinion. It provides federal courts with little guidance in the area of student speech. . . .