Supreme Court Roundup: Guns, School Shootings, and TV Indecency

By Mark Walsh — March 19, 2008 2 min read
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I’ve been away for a couple of days for a St. Patrick’s Day visit to New York City, but I wanted to note a couple of developments at the U.S. Supreme Court this week.

District of Columbia Handgun Ban

Yesterday, the justices heard arguments in a major case on gun rights. In District of Columbia v. Heller, the court will explore the scope of the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. Amid the hundreds of pages of friend-of-the-court briefs filed in the case, a couple bear mentioning here in the School Law Blog.

The city of Chicago and its board of education filed a brief in support of the District of Columbia’s prohibition against most private ownership of guns. The brief points out that in the last school year, 29 Chicago public schools students were killed in firearms-related violence. The district has confiscated more than 100 guns on school grounds since 2000, the brief says.

“Against this backdrop, [Chicago and the school system] consider it imperative that ... states be free to regulate firearms as they deem appropriate to the particular conditions in their communities,” the city’s brief says.

In another brief on D.C.'s side, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Children’s Defense Fund, and three other groups argue that handguns are a major public health threat to children.

‘Because of their accessibility, manageability, and physical appeal, handguns in the home pose a unique threat to children and youth,” the groups say.

School Shooting

Meanwhile, the court announced on Monday that it would take up an appeal stemming from a gang-related drive-by shooting at a Seattle high school in which a 16-year-old girl student was slain.

The issue in Waddington v. Sarausad is not one of school law. It involves whether the driver of the car in which the shooter was a passenger may be convicted as an accomplice to murder when the trial judge’s jury instructions were potentially deficient.

The state of Washington’s brief is here, and the response is here. The Seattle Times reported on the Supreme Court’s decision to review the case here, and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer here.

The court will hear the case next fall.

Broadcast Indecency

Are children harmed when musicians and other celebrities utter vulgar expletives when they speak at TV awards shows? The Federal Communications Commission would answer yes, and that is the underlying issue behind a case the Supreme Court agreed to take up.

In its appeal in FCC v. Fox Television Stations Inc., the federal agency is seeking to uphold fines against stations that carried the “Billboard Music Awards” show in 2002 and 2003, when Cher and Nicole Richie uttered the f-word on the air.

“The commission found that the language used was not only graphic and shocking—particularly in the context of nationally televised awards programs viewed by a substantial number of children—but was also gratuitous,” says the FCC’s appeal of a federal appeals court ruling that the commission’s policy on punishing isolated expletives was arbitrary and capricious.

The justices will also hear this case next fall.

A version of this news article first appeared in The School Law Blog.