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Tinker v des Moines case brief + full opinion

here you will see  Tinker v des Moines case brief.

In Tinker v des Moines case, the United States Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling in which it defined rights (freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, etc) provided under The First Amendment to the United States Constitution in relation to public school students in the United States.

Tinker v des Moines case established the ‘tinker test’ also known as the “substantial disruption” test, Courts still use the test to decide whether a school’s desire to avoid disruption infringes on students’ First Amendment rights.

Here I will share with you the tinker v des Moines case brief to help you understand everything you need to know about the Tinker v des Moines case in a simple and accurate way.

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Tinker v des Moines case brief

Tinker v. Des Moines, 393 U.S. 503, 89 S. Ct. 733 (1969)

Decided on February 24, 1969


Justice Fortas, Supreme Court of the United States


John F. Tinker and Mary Beth Tinker, minors, by their father and next friend, Leonard Tinker and Christopher Eckhardt, minor, by his father and next friend, William Eckhardt, petitioners and The Des Moines Independent Community School District, et al., Respondents.


The Petitioners filed the suit to  U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa to challenge the decision of the Des Moines school board to suspend them, District Court upheld the decision of the board.

United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed the decision of the District Court.

The petitioners appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States which reversed and remanded the decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.


Five students in Des Moines, Iowa, chose to wear black armbands to school in protest of the Vietnam War and to support Senator Robert F. Kennedy’s proposal for a Christmas Truce.

John F. Tinker (15 years old), his siblings Mary Beth Tinker (13 years old), Hope Tinker (11 years old), and Paul Tinker (eight years old), as well as their friend Christopher Eckhardt (16 years old), were among the students who protested.

The armbands were worn at various schools in the Des Moines Independent Community School District by the students (North High School for John, Roosevelt High School for Christopher, Warren Harding Junior High School for Mary Beth, and elementary school for Hope, and Paul).

The Des Moines school principals were informed of the plan and met prior to the incident on December 16 to develop a policy stating that students wearing an armband would be required to remove it immediately. Students who break the policy will be suspended and will only be permitted to return to school if they agree to follow it.

The petitioners break the policy, consequently, Mary Beth Tinker, John Tinker, and Christopher Eckhardt were suspended from school.

The petitioners claimed monetary damages and an injunction against the respondents’ regulation prohibiting the wearing of armbands.

Despite the absence of any finding of substantial interference with the conduct of school activities, the District Court dismissed the case on the grounds that the regulation was within the Board’s power. The Court of Appeals, sitting en banc, upheld the decision, thus this petition.


Is symbolic speech by students in public schools protected under the First Amendment rights?


The student’s non-disruptive conduct in school is entitled to comprehensive protection under the First Amendment.


On applying the rule to the facts, the court reasoned that At the schoolhouse gate, neither students nor teachers “sacrifice their fundamental rights to freedom of opinion or expression.”

The Court further noted that school officials may not prohibit speech solely on the basis of a concern that it might disrupt the learning environment.

As a result, the wearing of armbands by the Appellant is not disruptive conduct, but rather pure speech, which is entitled to broad protection under the First Amendment.


Yes, symbolic speech by students in public schools is protected under the First Amendment rights.


The decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reversed and remanded.

Dissenting opinion

Justices Hugo Black and John M. Harlan II dissented.

Black stated that “symbolic speech” was not constitutionally protected. He further stated that Tinkers’ behavior was indeed disruptive.

Harlan dissented on the grounds that he found nothing in this record that impugns the good faith of respondents in promulgating the armband regulation.

read the full Judgement here or download the pdf here

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Isack Kimaro
Isack Kimaro

Isack Kimaro, a lawyer, Creative Writer and self-taught SEO expert has been a prominent author of law-related topics since 2017. Through hard work, dedication, and a relentless pursuit of knowledge, Isack has successfully navigated the legal industry by providing valuable and easy-to-understand legal information to 500,000+ individuals of all levels of understanding.