Board of Education, Island Trees Union Free School District No 26 v. Pico, No. 80-2043

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtBRENNAN; BLACKMUN; WHITE; Chief Justice BURGER, with whom Justice POWELL; POWELL; APPENDIX TO OPINION OF POWELL; REHNQUIST; In the course of his discussion; Moreover; O'CONNOR; BRENNAN's
Citation102 S.Ct. 2799,73 L.Ed.2d 435,457 U.S. 853
PartiesBOARD OF EDUCATION, ISLAND TREES UNION FREE SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 26 et al., Petitioners, v. Steven A. PICO, by his next friend Frances Pico et al
Docket NumberNo. 80-2043
Decision Date25 June 1982

457 U.S. 853
102 S.Ct. 2799
73 L.Ed.2d 435
BOARD OF EDUCATION, ISLAND TREES UNION FREE SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 26 et al., Petitioners,

v.

Steven A. PICO, by his next friend Frances Pico et al.

No. 80-2043.
Argued March 2, 1982.
Decided June 25, 1982.
Syllabus

Petitioner Board of Education, rejecting recommendations of a committee of parents and school staff that it had appointed, ordered that certain books, which the Board characterized as "anti-American, anti-Christian, anti-Sem[i]tic, and just plain filthy," be removed from high school and junior high school libraries. Respondent students then brought this action for declaratory and injunctive relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Board and petitioner Board members, alleging that the Board's actions had denied respondents their rights under the First Amendment. The District Court granted summary judgment in petitioners' favor. The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded for a trial on the merits of respondents' allegations.

Held : The judgment is affirmed.

638 F.2d 404, affirmed.

Justice BRENNAN, joined by Justice MARSHALL and Justice STEVENS, concluded:

1. The First Amendment imposes limitations upon a local school board's exercise of its discretion to remove books from high school and junior high school libraries. Pp. 863-872.

(a) Local school boards have broad discretion in the management of school affairs, but such discretion must be exercised in a manner that comports with the transcendent imperatives of the First Amendment. Students do not "shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate," Tinker v. Des Moines School Dist., 393 U.S. 503, 506, 89 S.Ct. 733, 736, 21 L.Ed.2d 731, and such rights may be directly and sharply implicated by the removal of books from the shelves of a school library. While students' First Amendment rights must be construed "in light of the special characteristics of the school environment," ibid., the special characteristics of the school library make that environment especially appropriate for the recognition of such rights. Pp. 863-869.

(b) While petitioners might rightfully claim absolute discretion in matters of curriculum by reliance upon their duty to inculcate community values in schools, petitioners' reliance upon that duty is misplaced

Page 854

where they attempt to extend their claim of absolute discretion beyond the compulsory environment of the classroom into the school library and the regime of voluntary inquiry that there holds sway. P. 869.

(c) Petitioners possess significant discretion to determine the content of their school libraries, but that discretion may not be exercised in a narrowly partisan or political manner. Whether petitioners' removal of books from the libraries denied respondents their First Amendment rights depends upon the motivation behind petitioners' actions. Local school boards may not remove books from school libraries simply because they dislike the ideas contained in those books and seek by their removal to "prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion." West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624, 642, 63 S.Ct. 1178, 1187, 87 L.Ed. 1628. If such an intention was the decisive factor in petitioners' decision, then petitioners have exercised their discretion in violation of the Constitution. Pp. 869-872

2. The evidentiary materials before the District Court must be construed favorably to respondents, given the procedural posture of this case. When so construed, those evidentiary materials raise a genuine issue of material fact as to whether petitioners exceeded constitutional limitations in exercising their discretion to remove the books at issue from their school libraries. Respondents' allegations, and some of the evidentiary materials before the District Court, also fail to exclude the possibility that petitioners' removal procedures were highly irregular and ad hoc—the antithesis of those procedures that might tend to allay suspicions regarding petitioners' motivation. Pp. 872-875.

Justice BLACKMUN concluded that a proper balance between the limited constitutional restriction imposed on school officials by the First Amendment and the broad state authority to regulate education, would be struck by holding that school officials may not remove books from school libraries for the purpose of restricting access to the political ideas or social perspectives discussed in the books, when that action is motivated simply by the officials' disapproval of the ideas involved. Pp. 879-882.

Justice WHITE, while agreeing that there should be a trial to resolve the factual issues, concluded that there is no necessity at this point for discussing the extent to which the First Amendment limits the school board's discretion to remove books from the school libraries. Pp. 883-884.

Page 855

George W. Lipp, Jr., Babylon, N. Y., for petitioners.

Alan H. Levine, New York Civil Liberties Union, New York City, for respondents.

Justice BRENNAN announced the judgment of the Court and delivered an opinion, in which Justice MARSHALL and Justice STEVENS joined, and in which Justice BLACKMUN joined except for Part II-A-(1).

The principal question presented is whether the First Amendment 1 imposes limitations upon the exercise by a local

Page 856

school board of its discretion to remove library books from high school and junior high school libraries.

I

Petitioners are the Board of Education of the Island Trees Union Free School District No. 26, in New York, and Richard Ahrens, Frank Martin, Christina Fasulo, Patrick Hughes, Richard Melchers, Richard Michaels, and Louis Nessim. When this suit was brought, Ahrens was the President of the Board, Martin was the Vice President, and the remaining petitioners were Board members. The Board is a state agency charged with responsibility for the operation and administration of the public schools within the Island Trees School District, including the Island Trees High School and Island Trees Memorial Junior High School. Respondents are Steven Pico, Jacqueline Gold, Glenn Yarris, Russell Rieger, and Paul Sochinski. When this suit was brought, Pico, Gold, Yarris, and Rieger were students at the High School, and Sochinski was a student at the Junior High School.

In September 1975, petitioners Ahrens, Martin, and Hughes attended a conference sponsored by Parents of New York United (PONYU), a politically conservative organization of parents concerned about education legislation in the State of New York. At the conference these petitioners obtained lists of books described by Ahrens as "objectionable," App. 22, and by Martin as "improper fare for school students," id., at 101.2 It was later determined that the High School library contained nine of the listed books, and that another listed book was in the Junior High School library.3 In

Page 857

February 1976, at a meeting with the Superintendent of Schools and the Principals of the High School and Junior High School, the Board gave an "unofficial direction" that the listed books be removed from the library shelves and delivered to the Board's offices, so that Board members could read them.4 When this directive was carried out, it became publicized, and the Board issued a press release justifying its action. It characterized the removed books as "anti-American, anti-Christian, anti-Sem[i]tic, and just plain filthy," and concluded that "[i]t is our duty, our moral obligation, to protect the children in our schools from this moral danger as surely as from physical and medical dangers." 474 F.Supp. 387, 390 (EDNY 1979).

A short time later, the Board appointed a "Book Review Committee," consisting of four Island Trees parents and four members of the Island Trees schools staff, to read the listed books and to recommend to the Board whether the books should be retained, taking into account the books' "educational suitability," "good taste," "relevance," and "appropriateness to age and grade level." In July, the Committee

Page 858

made its final report to the Board, recommending that five of the listed books be retained 5 and that two others be removed from the school libraries.6 As for the remaining four books, the Committee could not agree on two,7 took no position on one,8 and recommended that the last book be made available to students only with parental approval.9 The Board substantially rejected the Committee's report later that month, deciding that only one book should be returned to the High School library without restriction,10 that another should be made available subject to parental approval,11 but that the remaining nine books should "be removed from elementary and secondary libraries and [from] use in the curriculum." Id., at 391.12 The Board gave no reasons for rejecting the recommendations of the Committee that it had appointed.

Respondents reacted to the Board's decision by bringing the present action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York. They alleged that petitioners had

"ordered the removal of the books from school libraries and proscribed their use in the curriculum because particular passages in the books offended their social, politi-

Page 859

cal and moral tastes and not because the books, taken as a whole, were lacking in educational value." App. 4.

Respondents claimed that the Board's actions denied them their rights under the First Amendment. They asked the court for a declaration that the Board's actions were unconstitutional, and for preliminary and permanent injunctive relief ordering the Board to return the nine books to the school libraries and to refrain from interfering with the use of those books in the schools' curricula. Id., at 5-6.

The District Court granted summary judgment in favor of petitioners. 474 F.Supp. 387 (1979). In the court's view, "the parties...

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431 practice notes
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    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Virginia)
    • November 23, 1998
    ...9. See Kreimer v. Bureau of Police, 958 F.2d 1242 (3d Cir.1992). 10. Defendant has consistently relied on Board of Education v. Pico, 457 U.S. 853, 889, 102 S.Ct. 2799, 73 L.Ed.2d 435 (1982) (Burger, J. dissenting) ("[T]here is not a hint in the First Amendment, or in any holding of this Co......
  • Lopez v. Tulare Joint Union High School Dist., No. F019400
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    • California Court of Appeals
    • May 9, 1995
    ...authority of the States and of school officials ... to prescribe and control conduct in the schools.' " (Board of Education v. Pico (1982) 457 U.S. 853, 863-864, 102 S.Ct. 2799, 2806, 73 L.Ed.2d Page 787 "[T]he education of the Nation's youth is primarily the responsibility of parents, teac......
  • Dawson v. East Side Union High School Dist., No. H011079
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    • California Court of Appeals
    • September 27, 1994
    ...views.' [Citation.]" (McCarthy v. Fletcher (1989) 207 Cal.App.3d 130, 139, 254 Cal.Rptr. 714; cf. also Board of Education v. Pico (1982) 457 U.S. 853, 866, 102 S.Ct. 2799, 2807-08, 73 L.Ed.2d It follows that courts should give substantial deference to the decisions of local school districts......
  • Leeb v. Delong, No. G002587
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    • California Court of Appeals
    • January 29, 1988
    ...school boards may not remove books from libraries based merely on the ideas contained in them. (Board of Education v. Pico (1982) 457 U.S. 853, 102 S.Ct. 2799, 73 L.Ed.2d 7 We are aware there is another way to eliminate school district exposure to tort litigation, and that is to extend immu......
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423 cases
  • Fowler v. Board of Educ. of Lincoln County, Ky., Nos. 85-5815
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • July 21, 1987
    ...as suggested by Judge Merritt's dissent, particularly when viewed in the context of the post-Mt. Healthy cases of Board of Educ. v. Pico, 457 U.S. 853, 102 S.Ct. 2799, 73 L.Ed.2d 435 (1982), and Bethel School Dist. v. Fraser, --- U.S. ----, 106 S.Ct. 3159, 92 L.Ed.2d 549 (1986). However, fo......
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    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Virginia)
    • November 23, 1998
    ...9. See Kreimer v. Bureau of Police, 958 F.2d 1242 (3d Cir.1992). 10. Defendant has consistently relied on Board of Education v. Pico, 457 U.S. 853, 889, 102 S.Ct. 2799, 73 L.Ed.2d 435 (1982) (Burger, J. dissenting) ("[T]here is not a hint in the First Amendment, or in any holding of this Co......
  • Lopez v. Tulare Joint Union High School Dist., No. F019400
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • May 9, 1995
    ...authority of the States and of school officials ... to prescribe and control conduct in the schools.' " (Board of Education v. Pico (1982) 457 U.S. 853, 863-864, 102 S.Ct. 2799, 2806, 73 L.Ed.2d Page 787 "[T]he education of the Nation's youth is primarily the responsibility of parents, teac......
  • Dawson v. East Side Union High School Dist., No. H011079
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    ...views.' [Citation.]" (McCarthy v. Fletcher (1989) 207 Cal.App.3d 130, 139, 254 Cal.Rptr. 714; cf. also Board of Education v. Pico (1982) 457 U.S. 853, 866, 102 S.Ct. 2799, 2807-08, 73 L.Ed.2d It follows that courts should give substantial deference to the decisions of local school districts......
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    ...419 U.S. 565, 593 (1975) (Powell, J., dissenting). (223.) See, e.g., Bd. of Educ, Island Trees Union Free Sch. Dist. No. 26 v. Pico, 457 U.S. 853, 864 (1982) ("[P]ublic schools are vitally important 'in the preparation of individuals for participation as citizens,' and as vehicles for 'incu......
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    ...ex rel. Bystrom, 822 F.2d at 750. (179.) Id. (180.) Id. at 750-51 (quoting Bd. of Educ, Island Trees Union Free Sch. Dist. No. 26 v. Pico, 457 U.S. 853,864(1982)). (181.) Henerey ex rel. Henerey, 200 F.3d (182.) Id. at 1135; Bystrom ex rel. Bystrom, 822 F.2d at 750. However, it should be no......
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    ...ask for them."). (40.) Transcript of Oral Argument at 59, Bd. of Educ., Island Trees Union Free Sch. Dist. No. 26 v. Pico ex rel. Pico, 457 U.S. 853 (1982) (No. 80-2043) (Stevens, J.) ("I was taught that was a vulgar word."); Transcript of Oral Argument at 20, Pennhurst State Sch. & Hos......
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