Former independent counsel Kenneth Starr has filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court to defend an Alaska school district for suspending a student who unfurled a “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” banner at an off-campus event
Starr is representing the Juneau School District, which is challenging a March 10 decision by the 9th Circuit Court ruling former Juneau-Douglas High School principal Deborah Morse violated former student Joseph Frederick’s free speech rights, the Juneau Empire reported.
Frederick, 18 at the time, was suspended after holding up the banner referring to marijuana smoking during the Winter Olympic Torch Relay Jan. 24, 2002.
Although Frederick was not on school property, Morse suspended him for violating the school’s policy of promoting illegal substances at a school-sanctioned event.
Starr, who now works for the Los Angeles-based firm Kirkland & Ellis, led the investigation in the 1990s that led to former President Bill Clinton’s impeachment. He is taking the case pro bono along with lawyers Rick Richmond and Eric Hagen.
Hagen told the Juneau paper he took the case because it has “broad implications for public school administrators across the nation.”
If at least four of the nine justices vote for the petition, the Supreme Court will hear the case.
Frederick’s attorney, Doug Mertz, believes it’s unlikely the high court will take the case and plans to file a petition of opposition.
“The principal’s actions were so outrageous, basically leaving school grounds and punishing a student for a message that is not damaging to the school,” he told the Empire.
Superintendent Peggy Cowan insists the district’s decision to appeal is not disrespectful of the First Amendment or students’ rights.
“This is an important question about how the First Amendment applies to pro-drug messages in an educational setting,” she contended.
After the appeals court ruling, Cowan maintained, school officials are faced with a confusing message.
“Under this ruling they are responsible for teaching students about the dangers of illegal drugs but also to tolerate pro-drug messages,” she said.