Literature Study GuidesTinker V Des Moines

Tinker v. Des Moines | Study Guide

United States Supreme Court

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United States Supreme Court

Year Decided



Primary Source


U.S. Supreme Court Case

At a Glance

  • In 1965 the United States sent combat troops to Vietnam for the first time. Although the United States had been providing some military assistance to anti-communist forces in Vietnam since the 1950s, the decision to send combat troops deepened U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. As a gesture of protest, a group of Iowa children planned to wear black armbands to school.
  • Des Moines school officials banned the armbands, but several students persisted in wearing them. Three of these students were suspended in mid-December and returned to class in January 1966.
  • Later that year, the protesters' parents challenged the schools' actions in court. They argued that the antiarmband rule violated the students' freedom of speech and their right to due process.
  • District and circuit courts upheld the schools' ban on armbands. The U.S. Supreme Court, however, found that the protesters' rights had indeed been violated. Justice Abe Fortas, in the majority opinion, introduced the "Tinker test," named after protesters Mary Ann and John Tinker, to determine when speech may be restricted in schools.
  • Under the Tinker standard, schools may only restrict speech if they expect "substantial disruption" of school activities. In the 21st century, this remains the rule by which such cases are judged. New forms of speech—such as web videos and social media—have emerged. However, the court continues to cite Tinker in determining how school authorities may respond to such speech.


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