Ken Starr, the former special prosecutor who helped bring us the Clinton impeachment, has filed a petition before the Supreme Court seeking reversal of an appeals court decision that upheld a high school student's constitutional right to display a "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" banner during a school authorized activity. Starr, an admitted "Starbucks addict" who does not have any "serious hobbies that really engage me," has taken the case pro bono on behalf of top-20 law firm Kirkland & Ellis, where Starr is of counsel.
The dispute began in January 2002. The Olympic Torch relay was making its way through Juneau, Alaska and the powers that be at Juneau-Douglas High School decided to release students from school to watch the historic event. A handful of lunatic troublemakers skipped school and waited across the street until the television cameras came by, at which point they unfurled a 20-foot long banner emblazoned with, oh yes, "Bong Hits 4 Jesus."
As Starr explains in his Supreme Court petition: "'Bong' is a slang term for drug paraphernalia commonly used for smoking marijuana. A 'bong hit' is slang for inhaling marijuana from such a device. The term 'bong hits' is widely understood by high school students and others as referring to smoking marijuana."
If the Supreme Court does accept review of the case, it would have broad implications for students' free speech rights generally, but especially with respect to drug policy issues. "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" was just a prank, but Starr's petition urges the Court to give school administrators a great deal of discretion in silencing drug policy discussion in schools: "In view of the devastating impact illegal drug use has both on students and the learning environment, schools should be afforded significant latitude in discouraging substance abuse. Part of maintaining a drug-free environment is ensuring that students are not confronted with inconsistent messages, particularly while school is in session."
The Ninth Circuit decision in favor of the student is here and the Petition before the Supreme Court is here.