What American Justice System?___BackgroundIn late of 1965, America’s involvement

What Historical Significance Did The Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School Court Case Hold in the American Justice System?___BackgroundIn late of 1965, America’s involvement in the Vietnam War had become more and more apparent in the media, especially as the week ending on November 6th brought the highest death toll since the United States had entered the fight four years prior to this, surpassing 1,000 men lost in combat. In the same month over 140 anti-Vietnam War groups held a “march on Washington” with an estimated 25,000 people in attendance. Two of the plaintiffs in this landmark court case,Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, Christopher Eckhardt and John Tinker, were 2 of these 25,000 attendees. Following this march, there was a meeting at Eckhardts’ home in Des Moines on December 11th to discuss the march and future methods of peaceful protest. At this small gathering it was decided that on Thursday, December 16, the public-school and college students would wear black armbands to classes. This was the root of the reason for this monumental court case.The Arm Bands Ross Peterson, a classmate of Christopher Eckhardt’s who attended the meeting on the 11th of December prepared an article about the students intentions to wear the black armbands to school on December 16th, and their intentions to continue wearing them until the U.S. government called for a truce. The article was called “WE MOURN / ATTENTION STUDENTS!”.  (S1) It explained the circumstances of the Vietnam war in basic language, and described the armbands as a mechanism to “express their grief”. (S1)Peterson then presented his article to the journalism teacher and newspaper advisor, Donald Haley with hopes of it being published in the Roosevelt student paper. Haley then advised that Peterson speak with the principal, Charley Rowley, before he would sanction the publication of the article. Following what was deemed as a “friendly conversation”  (S1) with E. Raymond Peterson, the director of secondary education in Des Moines Independent Community school (and no relation to the student Ross Peterson), Ross Peterson was informed that the school administration would not allow the article to be published. Despite the lack of reference to the armband demonstration in the Roosevelt student paper, the news of the demonstration has circulated the school and many students were considering joining it.School Administration Take ActionOn the 14th of December, Des Moines Independent Community School administrators held a meeting to decide what course of action to take about the student’s intended protest. They came to the conclusion that the armbands should be banned, and this was forwarded onto the related school authorities. Following this meeting, an independent article was published in the Des Moines Register, which included a statement from E. Raymond Peterson in which he claimed it is “For the good of the school system” that the school administrators would ban “anything that… presents a disturbing situation within the school”. He acknowledged that students are not banned discussing controversial issues in the classroom, but maintained that “schools are no place for demonstrations”. (S1)Students Take ActionOn December 16th, Mary Beth Tinker and Christopher Eckhardt wore the armbands, and the following day John Tinker did also. The school authorities then suspended the students, informing them they could return to school once they removed the armbands.Commentaries On December 18th, the the issue of the armbands appeared in the a local Des Moines newspaper, the Tribune. The editorial took a diplomatic stance throughout, offering both the views of the students intending to wear the armbands, and the views of the school authorities. However the editorial provided a conclusion which suggested that the author was more inclined to agree with the students views, saying “A vital function of schools is teaching respect for rights of expression of opinion and the values to be derived from the free clash of ideas. We wish school officials had been more willing to show their faith in these principles and less fearful of the possible result of a few students wearing black armbands to school.”Legal PreparationsIn early January of 1966, Dan Johnston agreed to represent the students in a lawsuit against the school district. On March 14th, on behalf of the Tinker children and Christopher Eckhardt, and their fathers as “next friends”, he filed with the clerk of the U.S. District of Iowa a formal “complaint” against the Des Moines Independent Community School District. Johnston alleged the students were “lawfully and peacefully engaged in the exercise of the right of free speech secured for them by Amendments One and Fourteen of the United States Constitution” and that the defendants were in violation of these amendments and section 1983 of Title 42 of the U.S. Code by depriving the plaintiffs of their right to free speech. Johnston requested a “permanent injunction”, which would result in a court order compelling the school district to remove the armband ban, and allow the plaintiffs to return to school sans penalty. In retaliation, Allan Herrick (the defendant’s lawyer) filed an “answer”, which claimed that the complaint “fails to state a claim against defendants upon which relief can be granted”.The Preliminary Trials On July 25th, The trial began before Judge Roy Stephenson in the U.S. district court in Des Moines. Testimonies were given from both the prosecution and defence witnesses. Following the court case which lasted two days, the parties and their lawyers had to wait five  weeks to find out Judge Stephenson’s verdict. He found in favour of the defendants, denying the injunction and nominal damages sought by the prosecution, and ruling that the actions taken by the original school district were justified. He highlighted that the right to free speech under the First Amendment are not purely explicit, as they accept the “balancing position” that was emphasised in the defendant’s trial brief. He declared that courts should only set aside school policy if the authorized officials act “unreasonably”.Following the verdict that ruled against their favour, the prosecution applied to the U.S. Court of Appeal. The hearing was held in April of  1967. However the same verdict was found, and the court ruled in favour of the defendants. Following this, the prosecution applied to the U.S. Supreme Court.The Supreme CourtWhen brought to the Supreme Court, the court found in favour of the prosecution in 7-2 decision. In his opinion written for the majority Justice Fortas wrote that students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”Following the court case, there was mass media coverage detailing the trial. On February 25th, 1969 a story on the trial featured on the front page of the New York Times, and it featured in many more journalistic outlets following this. It became a landmark court case throughout America.Is the Legacy of this Court Case Still Resonating Today?It is evident that although the Tinker v. Des Moines is fundamental in understanding student rights in modern America, similar cases that followed Tinker v. Des Moines in the 1970’s and 1980’s such as Roe v. Wade and Regents v. Bakke provide a more contemporary view on student rights. “Tinker does not tower in it’s legal neighbourhood the way it once did.” (S1)However Tinker still resonates today in the American legal system. William Valente, professor of law and education at Villanova University wrote “Student freedom of speech must now be analysed under three landmark Supreme Court decisions,… the Tinker case and the later Hazelwood and Berbel cases.”  Constitutional law and constitutional history texts evidently still accord Tinker a prominent place in their discussions of symbolic speech. Melvin Urofsky’s A March of Liberty: A Constitutional History of the United States cites Tinker as embodying the principle that ” symbolic speech… comes under the First Amendment umbrella”.The majority of Supreme Court rulings involving educational bodies subsequent to Tinker have sided with the educational officials. Yet these cases lack the three fundamental principles concerning the First Amendment and schools that Tinker contains: the free speech of a student is protected under the American constitution, schools may only use disciplinary action towards student expression if there is proof that the expression caused substantial disruption of school activities, and the judiciary has a vital role in warranting suitable punishment for students if this standard is met. Rulings have sided with school officials in cases following Tinker because Tinker is a unique case without unique circumstances that the American Justice System has not seen since Tinker. Since the majority of rulings have sided with school officials, it can be argued that fifty years on, American students do leave some of their First Amendment rights at the school gate. However the Supreme Court ruling in the Tinker case still remains good law, and Tinker is referred to in numerous legal journals and subsequent court cases. It is evident that the legacy of Tinker will remain as long as students demand the right to be heard as well as seen.


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