Island Trees School District v. Pico

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Board of Education v. Pico
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued March 2, 1982
Decided June 25, 1982
Full case name Board of Education, Island Trees Union Free School District No. 26, et al. v. Pico, by his next friend Pico, et al.
Citations 457 U.S. 853 (more)
102 S. Ct. 2799; 73 L. Ed. 2d 435; 1982 U.S. LEXIS 8; 8 Media L. Rep. 1721
Prior history Certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
The 1st Amendment limits the power of local school boards to remove library books from junior high schools and high schools.
Court membership
Case opinions
Plurality Brennan, joined by Marshall, Stevens; Blackmun (all but parts II-A(1))
Concurrence Blackmun
Concurrence White
Dissent Burger, joined by Powell, Rehnquist, O'Connor
Dissent Powell
Dissent Rehnquist, joined by Burger, Powell
Dissent O'Connor
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amend. I

Board of Education v. Pico, 457 U.S. 853 (1982),[1] was a case in which four Justices of the United States Supreme Court concluded that the First Amendment limits the power of local school boards to remove library books from junior high schools and high schools, four Justices concluded the contrary (with perhaps a few minor exceptions), and one Justice concluded that the Court need not decide the question.


According to the syllabus of the case:

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.

According to footnote 3 of the ruling, the books at issue have included Slaughterhouse-Five, The Naked Ape, Down These Mean Streets, Go Ask Alice, and The Fixer.


No single opinion commanded a majority of the Court, or announced any legal binding rule. Justice Brennan announced the judgment of the Court affirming the Court of Appeals, and controlled the outcome of the case and delivered an opinion joined by Justices Marshall and Stevens, and joined in all but Part II-A(1) by Justice Blackmun. Justice Blackmun filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment.

Justice Brennan noted the Court had previously held that students do not "shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate," Tinker v. Des Moines School District.[2] The First Amendment in this case included the right to read library books of the student's choosing.

Brennan concludes the plurality opinion with a discussion of the extent of the school board's authority to remove books from the school library:

As noted earlier, nothing in our decision today affects in any way the discretion of a local school board to choose books to add to the libraries of their schools. Because we are concerned in this case with the suppression of ideas, our holding [457 U.S. 853, 872] today affects only the discretion to remove books. In brief, we hold that local school boards may not remove books from school library shelves 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., at 642. Such purposes stand inescapably condemned by our precedents .

Justice Blackmun's concurrence[edit]

Justice Blackmun, concurring, 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.

Justice White's concurrence[edit]

Justice White provided the necessary fifth vote for the bottom-line result, which was to allow the case to proceed in the lower court. But his reasoning was different from that of the plurality and of Justice Blackmun, and he expressly refused to opine on the First Amendment question.

Rather, he rejected the plurality's decision to speak about "the extent to which the First Amendment limits the discretion of the school board to remove books from the school library," and concluded that there was "no necessity for doing so at this point. When findings of fact and conclusions of law are made by the District Court, that may end the case. If, for example, the District Court concludes after a trial that the books were removed for their vulgarity, there may be no appeal. In any event, if there is an appeal, if there is dissatisfaction with the subsequent Court of Appeals' judgment, and if certiorari is sought and granted, there will be time enough to address the First Amendment issues that may then be presented."

As a consequence, the Justices split 4-4 on the First Amendment question, and thus set no precedent for future cases.


Chief Justice Burger filed a dissenting opinion, in which Justices Powell, Rehnquist, and O'Connor joined. Justice Rehnquist filed a dissenting opinion, in which Chief Justice Burger and Justice Powell joined. Justices Powell and O'Connor each filed an additional dissenting opinion.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Text of Island Trees School District v. Pico, 457 U.S. 853 (1982) is available from:  Findlaw  Justia 
  2. ^ Tinker v. Des Moines School District, 393 U.S. 503, 506 (1969)

External links[edit]