Brief Fact Summary. In protest of the Vietnam War, several students wore black armbands to school. The Respondent, Des Moines Independent Community School District (Respondent), adopted a policy that any students wearing the bands would be suspended for causing disruption. The Petitioners, Tinker and other students (Petitioners) refused to remove their armbands and brought suit seeking protection of their First Amendment constitutional rights to political expression.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. This case presents the landmark decision that a student does not shed his personal rights at the schoolhouse door.
In protest of the Vietnam War, several students wore black armbands to school. The Respondent adopted a policy that any students wearing the bands would be suspended for causing disruption. The Petitioners refused to remove their armbands and brought suit seeking protection of their First Amendment constitutional rights to political expression. After the Respondent invoked its policy, the Petitioners refused to remove their armbands and were suspended. They brought suit in federal court, seeking an injunction from the disciplinary practice, maintaining that they had done nothing disruptive. The District Court and Court of Appeals upheld the school action and an appeal was brought to the Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court).
Issue. This case considers what happens when the fundamental rights of students collide with school policies, which are facially designed to lessen controversy.
Held. Justice Abe Fortas (J. Fortas). Reversed and Remanded.
The majority of the Supreme Court held that, in seeking to punish the Petitioners for their passive expression of opinion, unaccompanied by any disorder, the Respondent had violated their First Amendment rights. Just because a view may be politically charged, a student might express his opinion if he does so without colliding with the rights of others.
Dissent. Points of Law - for Law School Success
The rights of free speech and assembly, while fundamental in our democratic society, still do not mean that everyone with opinions or beliefs to express may address a group at any public place and at any time. View Full Point of Law
Justice Hugo Black (J. Black).
The dissenting opinion notes that, while no overt disturbance may have happened, the mere presence of the armbands took the students minds off of their work and diverted their attention to the war, which was a collision with the rights of others.
Concurrence. Justice Potter Stewart (J. Stewart).
The concurrence agreed with the majority opinion, that the armbands were passive and therefore the punishment imposed by the Respondent was an abridgement of the Petitioners’ rights. However, J. Stewart did not agree that the First Amendment constitutional rights of children were necessarily the same as those of adults. Discussion.
This case stands for the proposition that the First Amendment of the United States Constitution (Constitution), as incorporated by the Fourteenth Amendment, will allow passive expression of opinion, even as to controversial topics.