Tinker V. Des Moines Independent Community School District

1634 words - 7 pages

In the history of the Supreme Court, there have been many First Amendment cases that outline if exercises of free speech and expression are constitutional or unconstitutional. One of the most paramount 1st amendment cases is that of Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District (1969). This significant case helped shape the extension of symbolic speech, as well as ensure the freedom of speech and expression to students in schools.
In December 1965, a group of Iowa residents, both adults and children, gathered to discuss ways in which they could protest American involvement in the Vietnam War, a very controversial issue at the time. The group decided to wear black armbands for the month of December as a form of peaceful protest, as well as fast on December 16th and New Year’s Eve. 15 year old John F. Tinker, 13 year old Mary Beth Tinker and 16 year old Christopher Eckhardt protested alongside their parents by wearing the black armbands to their public schools (John and Christopher attended high school, Mary Beth attended junior high). Upon word of the protests, the principals of the Des Moines school district adopted a policy banning the wearing of armbands to school, in an effort to prevent disturbances that would subsequently arise. According to the rule, any student that wore an armband would be asked to remove it, and if they did not acquiesce, they would be suspended and unable to return to school until they complied with the policy. On December 16th, Christopher Eckhardt and Mary Beth Tinker insolently wore their black armbands to school, with John Tinker wearing his the following day. Although the armbands did not disrupt school, all three students were suspended until January 1st, 1966, when their protest ended. Meanwhile, backed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the students and their parents filed a lawsuit in US District Court. The District Court dismissed the case, upholding the constitutionality of the school board’s decision to prohibit the students from wearing the armbands. The case later moved onto the US Court of Appeals, where a 4-4 vote upheld the lower court’s decision. They then took their case to the Supreme Court.
The case was heard by the Supreme Court on November 12th, 1968 to a packed court house. The main constitutional question at hand was if a prohibition against the wearing of armbands in public school, as a form of symbolic protest, violates the First Amendment's freedom of speech and expression. Attorney Dan L. Johnson argued on the Tinker’s behalf, proclaiming that the students had the constitutional right, as per the 1st amendment freedom of speech and expression, to wear the black armbands as a form of symbolic speech. On the other hand, attorney Allan A. Herrick defended the school board’s actions, inciting that the prohibition of armbands was necessary to prevent and stifle any violence or disorder. The topic of discussion during the oral arguments centered largely upon whether Tinker’s...

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