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Supreme Court Weighs Limits of Censure in Case with Implications for Devisive School Boards

Desk with empty chair and microphone

Legislative bodies, including K-12 school boards, should be able to police their own members and censure is the historical mechanism for doing that, attorneys representing the Houston Community College System argued Tuesday in a hearing before the U.S. Supreme Court.

But censuring a board member for criticism of the board violates that person’s First Amendment rights and has “significant chilling effects,” responded Michael Kimberly, attorney for former trustee David Buren Wilson, who sued the system after he was censured.

During their questioning in Houston Community College System v. Wilson, the justices asked whether there should be limits to censure. Justices Clarence Thomas and Elena Kagan asked if censure can include fines or even imprisonment. But Richard Morris, attorney for the community college system — and for hundreds of school boards in Texas — said he didn’t think incarcerating a member for something they said was “within the history and tradition of this country.”