James Corbett Prevails in US Supreme Court

The last time we posted about the James Corbett case was back in August when we wrote James Corbett Wins His Appeal. To remind you what that was about, the next few indented paragraphs provide background information, which most of you can skip:

This is about Dr. James Corbett, an Advanced Placement European history teacher at Capistrano Valley High School in Mission Viejo, California, whose classroom remarks that creationism is “superstitious nonsense” were ruled to have violated the Constitution’s establishment clause. He was sued by Chad Farnan, one of his students — presumably a creationist.

Chad had also sued the school board — which was found not liable by the trial court. Both Corbett and Chad appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. Corbett wanted to be exonerated, and Chad wanted the court to impose even more liability. During the appeal, Chad dropped his claim against the school board in exchange for their agreement to drop their claim against him for legal fees. Only Chad’s claims against Corbett remained to be decided. Corbett’s attorney is Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of UC Irvine’s law school.

The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) has many of the court pleadings available online. See: C. F. v. Capistrano USD.

When we wrote about Dr. Corbett’s appellate victory, we repeated something we said before, and we still think it’s true so we’ll repeat it again:

[T]he key to this case isn’t whether Chad can go through life with a silly smirk on his face; what matters here is whether there’s any money to be made in creationist litigation. If this case provides a good fee for Chad’s legal team, there will be an incentive for more of the same.

Children and their parents will be used as tools for rapacious “family values” lawyers. Creationist kids will be listening intently in class — not to learn any history or science, but to detect any “ungodly” expressions their teachers may make. Good teachers — who are already on the endangered species list — will become extinct.

And at the end of our post about the appellate court victory we said this:

Unless Chad and his lawyers try to get the US Supreme Court to hear the case, it’s over. And it’s a happy ending.

We then stopped following the matter, except to post about some expected reactions from creationist sites — but unknown to us, Chad and his team actually did petition the Supreme Court. The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) has a post about it: Corbett case ends with a “victory for teachers”. They cite an article in the Orange County Register, the source of most of our Corbett news: Supreme Court won’t hear appeal of student’s anti-Christian lawsuit. Here are some excerpts from the Register, with bold font added by us:

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal Tuesday from a former high school student who sued his history teacher, saying he disparaged Christianity in class in violation of the student’s First Amendment rights. The high court denied Chad Farnan’s written demand for a review of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision last year that exonerated Capistrano Valley High School teacher James Corbett.

That’s what we would have expected. We went to the Supreme Court’s website, and we couldn’t find any opinion. When they decline to take a case, it’s usually done without one. So we found their case docket: C. F., Petitioner. v. James Corbett, et al. (“C.F.” is Chad Farnan, the creationist student.) There’s not much information there. The petition for a writ of certiorari (i.e., a request that the court take the case) was filed (after an extension of time) on 14 December 2011, and the petition was denied on 21 February 2012. That’s it.

Let’s read on in the Orange County Register:

“It was not at all surprising that the Supreme Court denied review,” said Corbett’s attorney, Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of UC Irvine’s law school and a constitutional scholar. “The 9th Circuit decision was sound … and made it clear he could not be held liable.”

In case you missed it in our post from last year, NCSE has that opinion at their website: C.F. v. CAPISTRANO USD (29-page pdf file). We continue:

Farnan’s attorneys, Jennifer Monk and Robert Tyler of the Murrieta-based Christian legal group Advocates for Faith & Freedom, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

That’s not surprising either. Here’s more:

“I think Dr. Corbett’s victory is a really important victory for teachers,” Chemerinksy said Tuesday. “Had Dr. Corbett been held liable, it could have opened the door for other teachers to be held liable. The 9th Circuit said there is no clear law that he violated. That means for any teacher, there is no clearly established law that says he can’t do this.”

The rest of the Register‘s article gives the history of the case. It’s a good summary. NCSE’s article highlights one particular item in the newspaper:

[T]he Register also quoted Douglas Laycock, a constitutional scholar at the University of Virginia School of Law, as identifying the case as “an example of a systemic problem in constitutional litigation”: “They can’t hold the teacher liable because the law was not clearly settled. Because they can’t hold him liable, the law will never become clear on what teachers can say in class.

We respectfully disagree with Laycock. If a state legislature wants to create guidelines, they’re free to do so. Even if they don’t, a school board can do it. The result of such efforts may or may not be constitutional, but if such guidelines exist, then the courts will have something to which they can refer when judging a teacher’s behavior. In Corbett’s case there were no guidelines, and the appellate court properly declined to create them.

Anyway, it’s over now — and there were two good results. First, Dr. Corbett’s long nightmare has finally ended; and second, a potentially lucrative source of business for creationist-oriented lawyers hasn’t been created. At least not in this case.

And what of Chad Farnan, the student who sued his teacher? The last we heard of him he was a student at Pepperdine University in Malibu. Ah, here he is. He plays water polo. He’s majoring in business and wants to go to law school. We wish him well, so we’re pleased that he’s not majoring in creation science.

Copyright © 2012. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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5 responses to “James Corbett Prevails in US Supreme Court

  1. Ceteris Paribus

    It’s all for the best that the case is over, but since the 9th Circuit decision did mention that Corbett invoked The Spaghetti Monster in his class discussion, we do lose a chance to see what Justice Scalia would have done with that concept in his own questioning.

  2. …a potentially lucrative source of business for creationist-oriented lawyers hasn’t been created.

    Coppedge et al. are busy trying to create another source. Which is why I hope JPL does not cave and settle out of court.

  3. Young Chad will have a nice, safe time at Pepperdine University there in Malibu, California overlooking the Pacific (unlike my dorm room that overlooked a cemetery) where he won’t be required to adhere to any particular Christian belief, although he will take a few mandatory Bible study classes. He’ll get a nice business degree, marry a nice Christian woman, get a nice job as a CPA or a financial planner or a corporate manager, produce two-point-five nice Christian children, coach soccer and baseball and probably live a nice, safe life provided for by technology and medical advances he couldn’t possibly understand. He’ll never be hungry, fear war, be too hot or too cold. He’ll go prematurely bald and his wife will put on some pounds but otherwise will live in a modern Garden of Eden.

    At some point he will run for a seat on the school board and rail against society because his kids can’t pray in school and how Darwin was Hitler, although by that time most people in the country won’t have a clue who either Darwin or Hitler was. And he will decry the sad state of affairs that nice Christians like him are so persecuted.

    In the fulness of time Chad’s children will attend Pepperdine just like their parents. Of course! And so it goes.

  4. Reminds me of Malvina Reynolds’ great song, Little Boxes:
    …and the people in the houses all went to the university
    Where they were put in boxes and they all came out the same,
    And there’s doctors and lawyers and business executives,
    and they’re all made out of ticky tacky
    and they all look just the same.

  5. @Doc Bill:

    I say 7 kids, all homeschooled, so he’ll only be whining about others’ kids, like all “good” activists.

    @ Ceteris Paribus:

    As for Scalia, we have not lost any opportunity to see what he as to say. If enough people ask him – and all the public figures who have had the audacity to imply (if not claim outright) that 99+% of biologists are wrong – hard questions about the “theory” they prefer. Starting with “is life on earth billions of years old or not?” and “do humans share common ancestors with their pet dogs and cats or not?” Make sure they know that Behe, whom most anti-evolution activists rave about, has conceded that mainstream science is correct on those basic conclusions.

    These people work for us. They owe us answers, no matter how much they want to weasel out of them. But even the weaseling is a clue that, at best, they have no confidence in any of the mutually contradictory creationist “theories.”