Tinker V. Des Moines (1969) Alex Crown- Block 1

Background Info

Who is involved?

Tinker and the Des Moines independent school district.

Who/What were they fighting against?

Tinker was fighting Des Moines because they were wearing black armbands to show their opinion for the Vietnam war. Des Moines was fighting Tinker because the black armbands were showing a possible distraction to other students that were trying to learn.

What part of the Constitution were they using to argue the case?

They were using the protection of the First Amendment right of freedom of speech.

When and where did the original case take place?

US District court in Iowa, 1966


In December of 1965, a group students decided to plan a public showing for a truce in the Vietnam War. They did this by wearing black armbands throughout the holiday season and to fast on December 16 and New Years Eve. Des Moines school district found out about this and told students if any of them were wearing an armband would be asked to remove it, and with refusal to do so would result in suspension. Two days later, Mary Beth Tinker and Christopher Eckhardt wore their armband and were sent home. Through their parents, the students sued the school district because they were violating the first amendment right of freedom of speech.

The Courts' Rulings

What was the verdict of the original case?

The verdict of the original District Court sided with the Des Moines school, so Tinker decided to appeal.

What was the appellate process?

The first court that they went through was the District Court (as seen above) and lost, which was then appealed to the Circuit Court, which they lost again, and finally to the U.S. Supreme Court, which justices ruled 7-2 and sided with the students.

What was the Supreme Court's ruling? Did the party win or lose the case?

The Supreme Court's ruling was 7-2 and (7 Tinker, 2 Des Moines) sided with the students (also seen above).

Ruling of the supreme court decision

So What?

This case is important because it shows that children can have the right of the first amendment speech but it also relies on a distinction between communication through action and communication through words. But the first amendment does not provide the right to express any action at any time. For example: Des Moines vs expression of the armbands for the Vietnam War.

Interesting Facts

  • Many students didn't care if they got suspended as long as they were showing their word about the movement.
  • Black armbands were "supposedly" ruining the learning for other students and was considered a distraction.

Research More

Visit our local library:


Or, visit these webpages to learn more about the justices for this case:

Earl Warren: https://www.oyez.org/justices/earl_warren

Hugo L. Black: https://www.oyez.org/justices/hugo_l_black

William O. Douglas: https://www.oyez.org/justices/william_o_douglas

John M. Harlan II: https://www.oyez.org/justices/john_m_harlan2

William J. Brennan, Jr: https://www.oyez.org/justices/william_j_brennan_jr

Potter Stewart: https://www.oyez.org/justices/potter_stewart

Byron R. White: https://www.oyez.org/justices/byron_r_white

Abe Fortas: https://www.oyez.org/justices/abe_fortas

Thurgood Marshall: https://www.oyez.org/justices/thurgood_marshall