Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District Case Brief

Facts of the case

In December 1965, a group of students in Des Moines held a meeting in the home of 16-year-old Christopher Eckhardt to plan a public showing of their support for a truce in the Vietnam war. They decided to wear black armbands throughout the holiday season and to fast on December 16 and New Year’s Eve. The principals of the Des Moines school learned of the plan and met on December 14 to create a policy that stated that any student wearing an armband would be asked to remove it, with refusal to do so resulting in suspension. On December 16, Mary Beth Tinker and Christopher Eckhardt wore their armbands to school and were sent home. The following day, John Tinker did the same with the same result. The students did not return to school until after New Year’s Day, the planned end of the protest.Through their parents, the students sued the school district for violating the students’ right of expression and sought an injunction to prevent the school district from disciplining the students. The district court dismissed the case and held that the school district’s actions were reasonable to uphold school discipline. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed the decision without opinion.

Why is the case important?

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.


This case considers what happens when the fundamental rights of students collide with school policies, which are facially designed to lessen controversy.


Yes. Students are persons worthy of constitutional protections both while in school and out of school.


The Supreme Court reversed because the wearing of armbands was entirely divorced from actually or potentially disruptive conduct by those that participated in it. Petitioners’ conduct was closely akin to pure speech which was entitled to comprehensive protection under the First Amendment, absent facts that might reasonably have led school officials to forecast substantial disruption of or material interference with school activities. The school officials banned and sought to punish petitioners for a silent, passive expression of opinion, unaccompanied by any disorder or disturbance on the part of petitioners. There was no evidence whatever of petitioners’ interference, actual or nascent, with the schools’ work or of collision with the rights of other students to be secure and to be let alone. Accordingly, this case did not concern speech or action that intruded upon the work of the schools or the rights of other students.

  • Advocates: –
  • Petitioner: Tinker
  • Respondent: Des Moines Independent Community School District
  • DECIDED BY:Warren Court
  • Location: Des Moines Independent Community School District
Citation: 393 US 503 (1969)
Argued: Nov 12, 1968
Decided: Feb 24, 1969
Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District Case Brief