The following document features excerpts from the landmark 1969 Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. The opinion was written by Justice Abe Fortas, and it established a precedent about protected speech in public schools. In previous testimony, the Tinkers' and the Eckhardts' stated purpose for wearing the armbands was to mourn those who died in the Vietnam War and to support Senator Robert Kennedy's proposal that the truce proposed for Christmas Day 1965 be indefinitely extended.
The U.S. District Court dismissed the case, agreeing with the school district's actions, based on their claim that the armbands would have caused a disruption at the school. After the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit split evenly over the decision, which upheld the District Court's decision by default, the Tinkers and Eckhardts appealed their case to the U.S. Supreme Court. With a 7-2 majority opinion, the Supreme Court held that the armbands represented pure speech that is entirely separate from the actions or conduct of those participating in it, and they also found that the students did not lose their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech when they stepped onto school property.
Transcript of Excerpts from Tinker v. Des Moines U.S. Supreme Court Majority Opinion
- In his majority opinion, Justice Abe Fortas stated, "It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate." What was the goal of the specific language used?
- Given the historical context of the ruling, why was it significant that Justice Fortas used the term totalitarianism?
"U.S. Reports: Tinker v. Des Moines School Dist., 393 U.S. 503 (1969)," U.S. Supreme Court, pp. 503, 505-506, 510-511, 1968. Courtesy of Library of Congress