Tinker versus Des Moines Independent Community School District Case


The Tinker versus Des Moines Independent Community School District case is one of the most well known historical cases that dealt with the infringement of the constitutional liberties of public learning institutions’ learners. Although many decades have passed since the Supreme Court handled the case, even presently the case receives substantial recognition, it is one of the main reference cases of the Supreme Court when handling cases that involve public students’ constitutional speech liberties.

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This case’s primary focus was on violation of students’ constitutional liberties primarily provisions in the First Amendment. The Supreme Court Judges argued the case in 1968, leading to the passing of the final verdict on February 24, 1969, whereby, the appellants won the case (Justia, 2010, p.1).

Background Information

Prior to filing of the case, in 1965 as a sign of disagreeing with the government’s intrusion into the Vietnam War, three students John Tinker, Mary Beth Tinker, and Christopher Eckhardt, defied there school’s (Des Moines) order that forbade the putting on of armbands by students within the school’s premises. In addition to showing disagreement of the government intrusions in the Vietnam War, the putting on of the bands was in response to Senator John F. Kennedy armistice call during the Christmas period.

According to the school’s administration, these three learners had violated one of the schools’ ground rules that forbade the wearing of armbands, hence making the school to suspend them indefinitely until the time they were ready to comply with the rule. On January 1, 1966, after completing the protest’s days, these students resumed their studies hence, ending their suspension period.

Later on, with support from the Iowa Civil Liberties Union, these learners’ parents filed a court case against the school in the U.S. District Court claiming compensation from the school administration and banning of the law that prohibited the wearing of bands, which they lost. The ruling of the District Court in favor of the School’s board prompted these learners’ parents to file a petition in the Court of appeals; a court whose tie vote result failed to change the early verdict made by the District Court.

Determined to win the case, these learners’ parents went a step further by presenting their petition in the Supreme Court, which they won in 1969 because the Supreme Court ruled in their favor (Justia, 2010, p.1).

According to the school, the suspending of the students was to avert likelihoods of unrest arising, because of confrontations that the school thought might arise as different students shared different opinions about the Vietnam War. The court refused this claims on the grounds that, this learners never expressed any form of behavior that was likely to result in a disturbance, specifications that were clear in the Free speech clause of the First amendment (FindLaw, 2010, p.1).

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The Supreme Court reversed the case by a seven to two opinion vote whereby, different Supreme Court Justices expressed their varying reasons for concurring or disagreeing with the Supreme Court’s decision. In his concurring opinion, although Justice Stewart disagreed with the court’s position, he still insisted that the First Amendment safeguarded these students’ expression rights, which all learning institutions had to respect.

Justice White shared the same sentiments by stating that, although he disagreed with the courts argument that schools should not limit students’ freedom of speech and expression, it was necessary for school to grant students expression rights, if their acts do not cause any school disturbances (Student Press Law Center: SPLC, 2010, p.1).

Contrary to these two concurring opinions, Justice Black dissented the court’s opinion by stating that, although provisions in the First and Fourteenth amendment gave students speech and expression rights, the provisions never gave learners the freedom of doing whatever they thought was right, although school boards had forbidden such acts.

Also, he stated that, although there was no evidence of school disturbance, the act might have diverted learners’ attention from concentrating in class hence, abuse of the fundamental freedom of expression (Tinker Et Al. V. Des Moines Independent Community School, 2010, p.1).

Constitutional Issues in the Case

According to the provisions in the First Amendment, specifically that Free Speech Clause, the law guarantees all American citizens the right of expressing their views on certain controversial concepts. Therefore, these students’ act was lawful, a fact supported by the supported by these students’ peaceful act.

Also, according to the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, it is unlawful for any school administration to limit learners’ freedom of expression, when school boards are certain that, any learner-expressed opinions have no negative impacts on the normal school programs.

Schools should be learning institutions where new ideas thrive; hence, by limiting these learners’ freedom of expression, expressed through a peaceful demonstration of wearing bands infringed the these learners’ rights, hence unlawful constitutionally (FindLaw, 2010, p.1).

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In addition to the provisions, in the Fourteenth and the First Amendment, although school boards had the discretion of setting rules governing the conduct of all students, the Bill of Rights also protected these students’ act of wearing bands. Therefore, the act of the school suspending these learners, because they had expressed their views silently ass a violation of the fundamental human right of speech and expression; hence, the school had to be responsible for its actions (American Civil Liberties Union, 2010, p.1).

Reflections on the Constitutionality of the Issue

The primary role of any learning institution is the development of new ideas, ideas that should be constructive and beneficial to not only to a single individual but also beneficial to the entire society. Considering this and the fact that, this students’ act was a peaceful show of their discontent with the government’s action, the schools’ act of suspending the students was not only constitutionally wrong but also ethically wrong (SPLC, 2010, p.1).

All learning institutions should be centers where ideas thrive whereby, regardless of the ideas presented, schools should grant students their fundamental rights of expressing their ideas, so long as such ideas do not interfere with a school’s programs.

Yes, although the Vietnam concept was a very controversial issue that has caused extreme unrests not only to U.S. citizens but to also to other global communities, there was no justifiable evidence that these students act could have caused disturbances to the smooth running of the school. This means that the Des Moines school’s board based their decision on mere assumptions, which were purely wrong because the practice was also common in other learning institutions.


In conclusion, because of the sensitivity of the issues that the case dealt with; issues that are common in most present public school scenarios; the case has been a good reference point of the Supreme Court, in the passing of decisions that that deal with the free speech rights of students.

A good example of a case that borrowed a concept from this case was the Bethel School District v. Fraser case of 1986, whose main emphasis was to control students’ expressive freedoms while respecting their constitutional liberties of expression.

Another case that referred to this case was the Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier, case that gave learning institutions the power to control the nature of content students should write in school articles (Infoplease, 2010, p.1). This shows the importance of this case in shaping the American public schools when it comes to defining students’ speech and expressive rights.

Reference List

American Civil Liberties Union. (2010). Tinker v. Des Moines (393 U.S. 503, 1969). ACLU. Web.

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FindLaw. (2010). U.S. Supreme Court: Tinker V. Des Moines School Dist., 393 U.S. 503 (1969) 393 U.S. 503. FindLaw. Web.

InfoPlease. (2010). Tinker v. Des Moines School District (1969). Family Education Network. Web.

Justia. (2010). Tinker V. Des Moines Sch. Dist., 393 U. S. 503 (1969). Justia U.S. Supreme Court Center. Web.

Student Press Law Center. (2010). Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District. SPLC. Web.

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