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Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Supreme Court of the United States
Argued November 12, 1968
Decided February 24, 1969
Full case name John F. Tinker and Mary Beth Tinker, minors, by their father and next friend, Leonard Tinker and Christopher Eckhardt, minor, by his father and next friend, William Eckhardt v. The Des Moines Independent Community School District, et al.
Citations 393 U.S. 503 (more)
89 S. Ct. 733; 21 L. Ed. 2d 731; 1969 U.S. LEXIS 2443; 49 Ohio Op. 2d 222
Prior history Plaintiff's complaint dismissed, 258 F.Supp. 971 (S.D. Iowa 1966); affirmed, 383 F.2d 988 (8th Cir. 1967); certiorari granted, 390 U.S. 942 (1968)
Subsequent history None on record
Argument Oral argument
Holding
The First Amendment, as applied through the Fourteenth, did not permit a public school to punish a student for wearing a black armband as an anti-war protest, absent any evidence that the rule was necessary to avoid substantial interference with school discipline or the rights of others. Eighth Circuit reversed and remanded.
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority Fortas, joined by Warren, Douglas, Brennan, White, Marshall
Concurrence Stewart
Concurrence White
Dissent Black
Dissent Harlan
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amends. I, XIV; 42 U.S.C. § 1983

Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 393 U.S. 503 (1969) was a decision by the United States Supreme Court that defined the constitutional rights of students in U.S. public schools. The Tinker test is still used by courts today to determine whether a school's disciplinary actions violate students' First Amendment rights.

Contents

Background of the case

In December 1965, Des Moines, Iowa residents John F. Tinker (15 years old), John's younger sister Mary Beth Tinker, (13 years old) and their friend Christopher Eckhardt (16 years old) decided to wear black armbands showing peace symbols on them to their schools (high school for John and Christopher, junior high for Mary Beth) in protest of the Vietnam War and supporting the Christmas Truce called for by Senator Robert F. Kennedy. The school board apparently heard rumor of this and chose to pass a policy banning the wearing of armbands to school. Violating students would be suspended and allowed to return to school after agreeing to comply with the policy. Mary Beth Tinker and Christopher Eckhardt chose to violate this policy, and the next day John Tinker also did so. All were suspended from school until after January 1, 1966, when their protest had been scheduled to end.

A suit was not filed until after the Iowa Civil Liberties Union approached their family, and the ICLU agreed to help the family with the lawsuit. Their parents, in turn, filed suit in U.S. District Court, which upheld the decision of the Des Moines school board. A tie vote in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit meant that the U.S. District Court's decision continued to stand, and forced the Tinkers and Eckhardts to appeal to the Supreme Court directly. The case was argued before the court on November 12, 1968.

The Supreme Court's decision

The court's 7 to 2 decision held that the First Amendment applied to public schools, and that administrators would have to demonstrate constitutionally valid reasons for any specific regulation of speech in the classroom. Justice Abe Fortas wrote the majority opinion, holding that the speech regulation at issue in Tinker was "based upon an urgent wish to avoid the controversy which might result from the expression, even by the silent symbol of armbands, of opposition to this Nation's part in the conflagration in Vietnam," and, finding that the actions of the Tinkers in wearing armbands did not cause disruption, held that their activity represented constitutionally protected symbolic speech.

Justices Hugo Black and John Marshall Harlan II dissented. Black, who had long believed that disruptive "symbolic speech" was not constitutionally protected, wrote "While I have always believed that under the First and Fourteenth Amendments neither the State nor the Federal Government has any authority to regulate or censor the content of speech, I have never believed that any person has a right to give speeches or engage in demonstrations where he pleases and when he pleases." Black argued that the Tinkers' behavior was indeed disruptive and declared, "I repeat that if the time has come when pupils of state-supported schools, kindergartens, grammar schools, or high schools, can defy and flout orders of school officials to keep their minds on their own schoolwork, it is the beginning of a new revolutionary era of permissiveness in this country fostered by the judiciary."

Harlan dissented on the grounds that he "[found] nothing in this record which impugns the good faith of respondents in promulgating the armband regulation."

Subsequent jurisprudence

Tinker remains a viable and frequently-cited Court precedent, though subsequent Court decisions have determined limitations on the scope of student free speech rights. In Bethel School District v. Fraser, a 1986 case, the Supreme Court held that a high school student's sexual innuendo–laden speech during a student assembly was not constitutionally protected. Fraser qualified Tinker in making an exception for "indecent" speech. Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier, where the court ruled that schools have the right to regulate, for legitimate educational reasons, the content of non-forum, school-sponsored newspapers, also limits Tinker's application. The Court in Hazelwood clarified that both Fraser and Hazelwood were decided under the doctrine of Perry Education Association v. Perry Local Educators Association. Such a distinction keeps undisturbed the Material Disruption doctrine of Tinker, while deciding certain student free speech cases under the Nonpublic Forum doctrine of Perry. In Morse v. Frederick, the Court held that schools may, consistent with the First Amendment, restrict student speech at a school-sponsored event, even those events occurring off school grounds, when that speech is reasonably viewed as promoting illegal drug use. Mary Beth Tinker continued to support freedom of speech and demonstrated in front of the Supreme Court during Morse v. Frederick.[citation needed]

See also

References

External links

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