ATLANTA - The ACLU of Georgia, represented by Alston & Bird LLP, filed an amicus brief yesterday with the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Jackson v. McCurry, a case that asks whether school administrators can preemptively ban a parent from speaking at a public school board meeting simply because the parent has threatened litigation against the school. The district court ruled that the school could do so, but the ACLU of Georgia is urging the appeals court to reverse that flawed ruling.
In its brief, the ACLU of Georgia argued that it is "a violation of the First Amendment for the government to preemptively and completely ban a concerned citizen from speaking at a limited public forum dedicated to hearing citizen complaints solely because he or she threatened to sue the government." The brief also noted that the school district's censorship policy of requiring anyone wishing to speak at a public school board meeting to submit their comments beforehand for government approval is unconstitutional.
According to court documents, Plaintiff Richard Jackson was allegedly banned from speaking at an upcoming public school board meeting by the Chattahoochee County School District because he threatened to file a lawsuit against the school over the school's search of his daughter's cell phone. The district court dismissed his First Amendment claim.
"Every Georgian enjoys the constitutional freedoms that the First Amendment's free speech clause guarantees," stated Sean J. Young, Legal Director of the ACLU of Georgia. "Under the flawed reasoning of the district court, any government entity can censor or discriminate against anyone who dares to threaten litigation against the government. This is anathema to the First Amendment."
The U.S. Supreme Court's 1976 decision established that viewpoint discrimination is absolute because "[t]o permit one side of a debatable public question to have a monopoly in expressing its views to the government is the antithesis of constitutional guarantees." City of Madison, Joint Sch. Dist. No. 8 v. Wis. Emp't Relations Comm'n, 429 U.S. 167, 175-76 (1976).