Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District

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Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District

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; 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
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
Chief Justice Earl Warren
Associate Justices Hugo Black, William O. Douglas, John Marshall Harlan II, William Brennan, Potter Stewart, Byron White, Abe Fortas, Thurgood Marshall
Case opinions
Majority by: Fortas
Joined by: Warren, Douglas, Brennan, White, Marshall
Concurrence by: Stewart
Concurrence by: White
Dissent by: Black
Dissent by: Harlan
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amend. I, XIV; 42 U.S.C. 1983

Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, Template:Ussc was a United States Supreme Court case that resulted in a decision defining the constitutional rights of students in U.S. public schools. It is considered one of the Court's more controversial decisions of the 1960s regarding freedom of speech. The Tinker test is still used by courts today to determine whether or not a school's disciplinary actions violate students' First Amendment rights.



In December 1965, Des Moines, Iowa residents John and Mary Beth Tinker and their friend Christopher Eckhardt decided to wear black armbands to their schools (high school for John and Christopher, junior high for Mary Beth) in protest of the Vietnam War. 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. The Tinkers and Eckhardt chose to violate this policy and were suspended from school until January 1966.

The case

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 meant that the school board'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 decision

The court's 7 to 2 decision was handed down on February 24, 1969. It 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."

Tinker Overruled?

Though Tinker remains one of the most frequently-cited Court opinions in society today, there is debate as to whether the ruling is still valid in light of the Court's decision in Bethel School District v. Fraser, a 1986 case holding that a high school student's sexual innuendo–laden speech during a student assembly was not constitutionally protected. While the Fraser court distinguished Tinker, the ruling at the very least represents a limiting of Tinker.

See also

External links

  • Tinker v. Des Moines ( John Tinker's page about Tinker v. Des Moines. Contains a current news feed.


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