Law & Courts

Supreme Court to Weigh Case on Official Immunity

By Mark Walsh — March 27, 2008 1 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The law surrounding the principle of “qualified immunity” gets complex pretty quickly. But for public school teachers and administrators, such immunity can often save them from exposure to damages in lawsuits and many hours in court.

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed this week to reconsider one of its important precedents on qualified immunity, which protects public officials such as educators and police officers from liability when their challenged actions did not violate clearly established law.

The immunity issue was an important part of last year’s famous “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” case, in which a student who had displayed a banner with that slogan challenged the discipline meted out by his high school principal. A lower federal court had ruled that the principal was not entitled to qualified immunity from a suit for damages because the student’s right to display the banner was so clearly established that the principal should have known she could not discipline him.

In Morse v. Frederick, the Supreme Court was effectively unanimous in overturning the lower court and ruling that the principal deserved qualified immunity. The justices were less unanimous on whether the “Bong Hits” banner merited First Amendment protection, ruling 5-4 that it did not.

In a concurring opinion, Justice Stephen G. Breyer said the Morse case could easily have been decided on qualified-immunity grounds alone if not for a 2001 high court decision on immunity known as Saucier v. Katz.

In that opinion, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said that lower courts weighing civil rights cases must first decide whether there is a constitutional violation, and then proceed to decide whether the public official is entitled to qualified immunity. The theory is that if cases were often decided on immunity grounds alone, the courts would never resolve many constitutional questions.

But the Saucier decision has been widely criticized in the lower federal courts, and in his Morse concurrence, Justice Breyer called it “a failed experiment.”

His view may have had an influence on his fellow justices.

On March 24, the court announced it would review a case involving a police search in which the officers’ immunity was at issue. In accepting the appeal in Pearson v. Callahan (Case No. 07-751), the justices asked the parties to also address the question of whether Saucier v. Katz should be overruled.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Law & Courts Here Are the Upcoming Supreme Court Cases That Matter for Schools
Major cases on school choice and religious schools will be heard, along with a case on whether school boards can reprimand outspoken members.
9 min read
In this June 8, 2021 photo, with dark clouds overhead, the Supreme Court is seen in Washington.
The U.S. Supreme Court's new term opens in early October with several cases that could impact K-12 schools.
J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Law & Courts Families Sue Rhode Island's Governor to Overturn His School Mask Mandate
The families say mask-wearing threatens to cause serious and long-lasting damage on their children's physical and emotional well-being.
Linda Borg, The Providence Journal
2 min read
Students line up to have their temperature taken as they return for the first time as their school, The Learning Community, reopens to in-person learning after it closed for the pandemic a year ago, in Central Falls, R.I., on March 29, 2021.
Students line up to have their temperature taken as they return for the first time as their school, The Learning Community, reopens to in-person learning after it closed for the pandemic a year ago, in Central Falls, R.I., on March 29, 2021.
David Goldman/AP
Law & Courts Federal Judge Denies Parents' Suit to Block Florida's Ban on School Mask Mandates
The parents argued that their children, due to health conditions, were at particular risk if any of their peers attend school without masks.
David Goodhue, Miami Herald
3 min read
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks at the opening of a monoclonal antibody site in Pembroke Pines, Fla., on Aug. 18, 2021. The on-again, off-again ban imposed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis to prevent mandating masks for Florida school students is back in force. The 1st District Court of Appeal ruled Friday, Sept. 10, that a Tallahassee judge should not have lifted an automatic stay two days ago that halted enforcement of the mask mandate ban.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks at the opening of a monoclonal antibody site in Pembroke Pines, Fla., on Aug. 18, 2021. The on-again, off-again ban imposed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis to prevent mandating masks for Florida school students is back in force. The 1st District Court of Appeal ruled Friday, Sept. 10, that a Tallahassee judge should not have lifted an automatic stay two days ago that halted enforcement of the mask mandate ban.
Marta Lavandier/AP
Law & Courts Texas Attorney General Sues More School Districts That Require Masks
The Texas attorney general's office anticipates filing more lawsuits against districts flouting the governor’s order. Will Dallas be next?
Talia Richman, The Dallas Morning News
4 min read
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks at the Austin Police Association in Austin, Texas, on Sept. 10, 2020.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks at the Austin Police Association in Austin, Texas, on Sept. 10, 2020.
Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman via AP