Public Resources

Law in Society Competition Hypothetical - 2015

"A Graduation Ruckus in Rocktown"

On June 1, 2015, Principal Henry returns to work after a great weekend to find that he has a problem on his hands.   Graduation for Rocktown High School is less than three weeks away.  This year, he has scheduled an amazing commencement speaker.  Angel Bradford was the daughter of a local farmer, and an alumna of RHS, who rose to become CEO of Glo-Bo Bovine, the largest dairy conglomerate in the region.  But, over the weekend, Susan Statler, a 12th grader at RHS and the president of the Animal Rights Club, started a petition on-line demanding that Principal Henry bar Ms. Bradford from speaking at the graduation.  Susan and ARC are claiming that Glo-Bo mistreats animals, and have posted several pictures of legal, but controversial, practices at Glo-Bo factory farms.  The petition already has more than 500 signatures. 

Principal Henry reluctantly decides that, although he feels it is inappropriate to censor Ms. Bradford just because of controversy around her business, he doesn’t want this issue to overshadow RHS graduation.  He calls up Ms. Bradford and apologetically disinvites her. He also puts her in touch with Principal Jefferson, the principal of Greater Rocktown Preparatory High School, a local private high school, who arranges for Ms. Bradford to be able to speak there instead. 

However, word of the change gets out, and two days later Susan updates the on-line petition site to protest Ms. Bradford speaking at either high school.  To make matters worse, the petition is now going viral on Twitter, being shared on Facebook, and has been picked up by several local media outlets.  Principal Jefferson calls Principal Henry and says that, on account of the bad publicity, they will not be able to host Ms. Bradford after all. 

By June 12, 2015, the controversy has embroiled all of Rocktown, with graduation now only a week away.  Susan, the students in ARC and their parents are angry that the local principals have been working behind the scenes to make sure Ms. Bradford has a chance to speak, despite her company’s controversial practices.  Ms. Bradford and her relatives who still live in the community are insulted that her business practices are being used to prevent her from speaking at graduation, and also angry at the two principals for backing out of their agreements to allow her to speak.  Principal Henry and Principal Jefferson are angry with each other, and with Susan and ARC for making a huge controversy out of something that is not related to commencement. Finally, Ms. Bradford has said she is contemplating suing Susan and ARC for defamation.

The school principals and the students appeal informally to you, a respected retired judge of the Rocktown State Court, to resolve this issue in a way that conforms with the law and is best for the community.  In order to resolve the situation, you need to answer the following questions:

  1.  Do Susan and ARC have the right to stop Ms. Bradford from speaking due to her controversial (but legal) practices?
  2.  Does Ms. Bradford and/or the principals have the right to insist on her speaking? 
  3.  Should Ms. Bradford be able to sue Susan and ARC for defamation?

Craft a position that addresses the concerns of all sides, and explain how that position squares with the rights of free speech and assembly enshrined in the First Amendment to the Constitution. 

Updated: Nov 03, 2014