Tinker v. Des Moines School District
Decided on Feb. 24, 1969; 393 US 503


The Court ruled that students wearing black armbands to protest the Vietnam War
was symbolic speech protected by the First Amendment.

 

I. ISSUES II. CASE SUMMARY III. AMICI CURIAE IV. DECISION V. WIN OR LOSS?
I. ISSUES:

A. Issues Discussed: Free Speech

B. Legal Question Presented:

Was the school's policy prohibiting students from wearing an armband to school in protest to the Vietnam war, a violation of the First Amendment?

II. CASE SUMMARY:

A. Background:

"Petitioners, three public school pupils in Des Moines, Iowa, were suspended from school for wearing black armbands to protest the Government's policy in Vietnam. They sought nominal damages and an injunction against a regulation that the respondents had promulgated banning the wearing of armbands.

The District Court dismissed the complaint on the ground that the regulation was within the Board's power, despite the absence of any finding of substantial interference with the conduct of school activities. The Court of Appeals, sitting en banc, affirmed by an equally divided court."

On certiorari the US Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals.

B. Counsel of Record:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Unavailable Unavailable
C. The Arguments:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Unavailable Unavailable
III. AMICI CURIAE:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Brief of amici curiae urging reversal was filed by Charles Morgan, Jr., for the United States National Student Association

Dan L. Johnston argued the cause for petitioners. With him on the brief were Melvin L. Wulf and David N. Ellenhorn.

Allan A. Herrick argued the cause for respondents. With him on the brief were Herschel G. Langdon and David W. Belin.


IV. THE SUPREME COURT'S DECISION:

"In wearing armbands, the petitioners were quiet and passive. They were not disruptive and did not impinge upon the rights of others. In these circumstances, their conduct was within the protection of the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth.

First Amendment rights are available to teachers and students, subject to application in light of the special characteristics of the school environment.

A prohibition against expression of opinion, without any evidence that the rule is necessary to avoid substantial interference with school discipline or the rights of others, is not permissible under the First and Fourteenth Amendments."

"After an evidentiary hearing the District court dismissed the complaint... On appeal, the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit... was equally divided and the District Court's decision was affirmed."

On certiorari, the US Supreme Court reversed the the Court of Appeals judgment.

Justice Vote: 7 Pro vs. 2 Con

  • Fortas, A. Pro (Wrote majority opinion)
  • Stewart, P. Pro (Wrote concurring opinion)
  • White, B. Pro (Wrote concurring opinion)
  • Douglas, W.  Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Warren, E. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Marshall, T. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Brennan, W. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Black, H. Con (Wrote dissenting opinion)
  • Harlan, J. Con (Wrote dissenting opinion)
  • V. A WIN OR LOSS FOR THE ACLU?

    The ACLU, as counsel of record, urged reversal of the Judgment of the Court of Appeals; the US Supreme Court reversed the lower court's decision in a 7-2 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent win.