U of M Punishment for Student’s Facebook Post Goes Before the Supreme Court

9 Feb

The Minnesota Supreme Court heard oral arguments today on the case of Tatro v. University of Minnesota. This case has gotten some pretty substantial media coverage, so I won’t rehash all the facts right here, but to oversimplify things, Amanda Tatro was a mortuary science student at the U who posted comments to her Facebook wall in 2009 about “playing” with her cadaver in her anatomy course and wanting “to stab a certain someone in the throat,” among other things. The U responded by placing Tatro on academic probation and various other restrictions and punishments.

This case has gotten a bunch of coverage in the legal blogosphere. Patrick over at Practical Obscurity has some great analysis on the case and actually attended the oral arguments. On a national level, Frank LoMonte wrote an editorial in the Chronicle of Higher Education, and Above the Law gave it the snark treatement.

The most thorough treatment of the actual oral argument I’ve seen is over at the Student Press Law Center, where Brett Johnson,  a U of M doctoral student, gave a pretty comprehensive rundown. According to Johnson, at one point during the arguments, Justice Barry Anderson expressed his concern over public universities using speech codes whenever speech could “make someone somewhere feel uncomfortable.”

“University administrators have not exactly covered themselves with glory on the subject of the First Amendment over the course of the last many years,” Anderson said, according to Johnson.

Johnson also must have done some real on-the-ground reporting, because he has quotes from University of Minnesota general counsel Mark Rotenberg stating after the arguments that he is not advocating for blanket restrictions on student speech.

“This is a case about professional training,” Rotenberg said, according to Johnson. “The university is meeting a narrow interest that is context specific.”

Interestingly, Johnson and the Pioneer Press noted that Justices Alan Page and David Stras and Chief Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea recused themselves from the case, and that Judge Gary Schurrer of Washington County is serving on the high court by designation. I’m not sure the exact reasons, but I know that Gildea used to work in the U’s General Counsel office, and Stras was a professor at the U until last year. Page attended law school at the U, but so Did Barry Anderson, and Paul Anderson is still adjunct faculty, so I’m not sure what all went into the recusal decision process.

According to the Minnesota Daily, Tatro is prepared to take this matter to the U.S. Supreme Court if she loses in St. Paul.

Stay tuned…


2 Responses to “U of M Punishment for Student’s Facebook Post Goes Before the Supreme Court”


  1. Home Defense Bill Get to Full Senate (Again) « Void for Vagueness - February 9, 2012

    […] “draw” pun, whereas Jake missed several opportunities for great puns in his recent first amendment article, for example: Abra-cadaver or cadaver? I hardly know her… I for one expect […]

  2. Minnesota Supreme Court Says U of M Student’s Rights not Violated by Punishment for Facebook Post « Void for Vagueness - June 20, 2012

    […] I have not read the whole decision yet, but you can read the opinion yourself here. The Void previously reported on the Tatro case here. […]

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