Supreme Court hears oral arguments on pipeline route and regulation of off-campus speech
MarkThomas / Pixabay
Supreme Court hears oral arguments on pipeline route and regulation of off-campus speech

The US Supreme Court heard oral arguments  Wednesday for Mahanoy Area School District v. B.L. and PennEast Pipeline Co. v. New Jersey.

In PennEast Pipeline Co. v. New Jersey, the Supreme Court will determine whether PennEast Pipeline Co. can run a pipeline through New Jersey’s state-controlled land. PennEast argues that it is permissible to take state-controlled land because the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission permitted the project in 2018. New Jersey asserts PennEast Pipeline cannot take state-controlled land based on the state court proceeding. The Natural Gas Act does not explicitly allow “private lawsuits by private parties against states.”

A federal appeals court affirmed a ruling for PennEast. Justice Elena Kagan expressed concern that the federal government was not involved when PennEast obtained the property. Justice Brett Kavanaugh asked what would happen if PennEast loses, to which PennEast’s lawyer responded, “this pipeline will … not be built at least in anything like its current configuration.” A decision on this case is expected by June.

In Mahanoy Area School District v. B.L., the Supreme Court will determine whether a public school can regulate a student’s speech that occurs off campus. A high school student, Brandi Levy, received a one-year cheerleading suspension when she posted a Snapchat containing profanity directed toward cheerleading. Levy asserts that the suspension violated her free speech rights. Under Tinker v. Des Moines Independent community School District, public schools can regulate speech that is “materially and substantially” disruptive to school’s work and discipline. Mahanoy Area School District explained that off-campus speech can be regulated because “social media has made it far easier for students’ off-campus messages to instantly reach … classmates and dominate the on-campus environment.”

The court of appeals affirmed a ruling for Levy. During the oral argument, Justice Elena Kagan said that Tinker focused on “what’s necessary for a school’s learning environment,” so off-campus speech might be subject to regulation if the speech causes “fundamental problems” that disrupt the school environment. Justice Kavanaugh suggested that the “First Amendment does not categorically prohibit public schools from disciplining students for speech that occurs off-campus.” Kavanaugh also expressed that the suspension was “a bit of an overreaction by the coach.”