Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

U.S. Supreme Court Cases

Tinker v Des Moines Board of Education, 1969

"Tinker v. Des Moines is a historic Supreme Court ruling from 1969 that cemented students’ rights to free speech in public schools.

Mary Beth Tinker was a 13-year-old junior high school student in December 1965 when she and a group of students decided to wear black armbands to school to protest the war in Vietnam. The school board got wind of the protest and passed a preemptive ban. When Mary Beth arrived at school on Dec. 16, she was asked to remove the armband and was then suspended.

Four other students were suspended as well, including her brother John Tinker and Chris Eckhardt. The students were told they could not return to school until they agreed to remove their armbands. The students returned after the Christmas break without armbands, but in protest, they wore black clothing for the remainder of the school year — and filed a First Amendment lawsuit.

Represented by the ACLU, the students and their families embarked on a four-year court battle that culminated in the landmark Supreme Court decision. Dan Johnston, a young lawyer also from Des Moines and just out of law school, argued the case.

On Feb. 24, 1969, the court ruled 7-2 that students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”

The court found that the First Amendment applied to public schools, and school officials could not censor student speech unless it disrupted the educational process. Because wearing a black armband was not disruptive, the court held that the First Amendment protected the right of students to wear them."

“Tinker v. Des Moines - Landmark Supreme Court Ruling on Behalf of Student Expression.” American Civil Liberties Union, 15 Nov. 2012, www.aclu.org/other/tinker-v-des-moines-landmark-supreme-court-ruling-behalf-student-expression.

Valentine, Rebecca. "Mary Beth Tinker and her brother John display the black armbands that were the center of the Supreme..." UXL Civics, vol. 2: Rights, Liberties, and Obligations, UXL, 2015. Gale In Context: High School, link.gale.com/apps/doc/PC3622587057/SUIC?u=wctys36&sid=SUIC&xid=55a2f06c.