Landmark Law Cases Affecting Teenagers

Posted: May 26, 2011 in Uncategorized
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Should teenagers have the same rights as adults under the U.S. Constitution? Several cases have dealt with this question.  The answer is not always “yes” and the Supreme Court has said, in fact, that in certain instances teenagers can be treated differently. Below are cases relating to the 1st amendment rights of teenagers. These cases relate to the question of whether or not teenagers are entitled to the same protection under the law as adults:

Gerald Gault

Gerald Gault, whose delinquency case rose to the Supreme Court and formed the basis of a landmark juvenile justice ruling, is seen being trained in automotive work in 1967.

  • In Re Gault Minors’ Rights: When fifteen-year-old Gerald Gault of Globe, Arizona, allegedly made an obscene phone call to a neighbor, he was arrested by the local police, who failed to inform his parents. After a hearing in which the neighbor didn’t even testify, Gault was promptly sentenced to six years in a juvenile “boot camp” for an offense that would have cost an adult only two months. Even in a nation fed up with juvenile delinquency, that sentence seemed over the top and inspired a spirited defense on Gault’s behalf. Led by Norman Dorsen, the ACLU ultimately took Gault’s case to the Supreme Court and in 1967 won a landmark decision authored by Justice Abe Fortas. Widely celebrated as the most important children’s rights case of the twentieth century, In re Gault affirmed that children have some of the same rights as adults and formally incorporated the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process protections into the administration of the nation’s juvenile courts.
  • Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier Student Censorship: The Hazelwood vs. Kuhtmgtgg case deals with the First Amendment rights of students to free expression. The controversy began in the spring of 1983 when Robert E. Reynolds, the principal of Hazelwood East High School, refused to permit the publication of two edgy articles—one focusing on the effects of parents’ divorce upon students, another examining the issue of teenage pregnancy at the school. Reynolds, upon review of their page proofs, deleted both articles from the issue before publication. The student journalists, angered by what they viewed as a blatant imposition of censorship, first went to district court where a judge agreed with the school board’s lawyer who said that schools would be in trouble if people could change curriculum at the drop of a lawsuit. A court of appeals disagreed, however, and by a 2-1 decision overturned the judge’s decision saying the Hazelwood’s “Spectrum” was, in fact, a public forum. When the case finally reached the Supreme Court on January 13, 1988 however the Supreme Court ruled  5-3 that Reynolds did have the constitutional grounds to censor the school newspaper because the paper itself was not a “forum for public expression” but was rather a “regular classroom activity.” As such, the paper deserved not the broad protection offered to the free press under the First Amendment, but rather the much narrower protection offered to students in a classroom setting, where “educators are entitled to exercise greater control.” The court majority then offered a very broad set of specific circumstances in which school officials would be justified in censoring student publications—cases in which the material in question was “ungrammatical, poorly written, inadequately researched, biased or prejudiced, vulgar or profane, or unsuitable for immature audiences.” Critics blasted these standards as far too broad and subjective in nature; what, for example, would prevent a school principal from rejecting a critical article on the spurious basis that it was “poorly written”? In practice, the Hazelwood decision gave school officials a great deal of power to regulate the content of the student press; student press freedom advocates argue that it gutted students’ protections under the First Amendment.


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