Left-wingers at a Tennessee school system lost their battle to bestow upon themselves the same immunity that police officers have, but in the school’s case, officials wanted to shield teachers from having to suffer accountability from parents.
In the case McElhaney v. Williams, the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals denied a bid by the Putnam County, Tennessee, School system to give its employees something called “qualified immunity.”
Qualified immunity is a legal doctrine that has protected law enforcement officers and other government officials from being sued or pushed into court when they encounter citizens in the pursuit of their law enforcement duties. It prevents them from being sued every time some suspect is unhappy that they have been arrested.
The legal coverage doesn’t prevent police officers from being held accountable in every case. But it does keep them from being arrested at the drop of a hat for violating people’s rights.
Judge Chad Andrew Readler, though, did not agree with the school’s bald-faced attempt to shield their employees from all legal responsibilities.
As Judge Readler wrote:
Youth sports are as much about instilling life lessons as they are winning and losing. Child athletes can be forgiven for occasionally losing sight of this bigger picture. But we expect more from their parents.
As this case demonstrates, those expectations are not always met. Randall McElhaney is an enthusiastic supporter of his daughter, who, when this dispute arose, was an infielder on her high school softball team. His passion, however, sometimes gets the best of him. When his daughter was benched, McElhaney sent text messages to her coach criticizing his managerial decisions. In response, school officials banned McElhaney from attending games for the next week.
A dispute over the team’s starting infield soon became much more. McElhaney filed this suit, alleging that school officials retaliated against him for criticizing his daughter’s coach, speech that McElhaney believed was shielded by the First Amendment. Defendants moved for summary judgment on qualified immunity grounds. In their minds, McElhaney was not denied a constitutional right, let alone one that was clearly established. Reaching only the clearly established prong of qualified immunity, the district court granted defendants’ motion and entered judgment in their favor.
As we see things, it is clearly established at a low level of generality that when a school employee interacts with a student, speech by the student’s parent about those interactions enjoys First Amendment protection. On that basis, we must reverse the district court. We remand the case to resolve whether retaliation occurred in the first instance.
In this day and age, one need not look (or scroll) far to find speech she deems disrespectful. Many of us might share her sentiment. But that does not mean the disrespectful speech opens one up to government retaliation. The First Amendment muscularly protects most types of speech. For today’s purposes, it is enough to say that those protections encompass a parent’s criticism of the ways in which school employees treat the parent’s child at school… In that situation, it is clearly established at a low level of generality that a school official may not retaliate against the parent for the content of his speech.
Accordingly, McElhaney has satisfied the clearly established prong of the qualified immunity inquiry. That leaves the threshold question of whether a constitutional violation in fact occurred, a determination best made by the district court on remand… Back in the district court, the evidence might show that none (or only some) of defendants’ actions were motivated by McElhaney’s speech, rather than the time, place, or manner of that speech. Or it might show that the ban was not a sufficiently adverse action… Either way, these questions are best answered by the district court in the first instance.
The leftist school district wanted qualified immunity to act with impunity to ban free speech of parents and children alike.
Just like all fascist liberals, they hate free speech and want the authoritarian power to control everything people do.Commentary