Two Justices dissented. Justice Black issued the more comprehensive dissent.
. . . As I read the Court's opinion it relies upon the following
grounds for holding unconstitutional the judgment of the Des Moines
school officials and the two courts below. First, the Court concludes
that the wearing of armbands is "symbolic speech" which is "akin to
'pure speech'" and therefore protected by the First and 14th Amendments. Secondly, the Court decides that the public schools are an
appropriate place to exercise "symbolic speech" as long as normal school
functions are not "unreasonably" disrupted. . . .
. . . Assuming that the Court is correct in holding that the conduct
of wearing armbands for the purpose of conveying political ideas is
protected by the First Amendment, the crucial remaining questions are
whether students and teachers may use the schools at their whim as a
platform for the exercise of free speech. . . .
. . . While I have always believed that under the First and
14th Amendments neither the State nor the Federal Government has
any authority to regulate or censor the content of speech, I have never
believed that any person has a right to give speeches or engage in
demonstrations where he pleases and when he pleases. . . .
. . . I think the record overwhelmingly shows that the armbands did
exactly what the elected school officials and principals foresaw they
would, that is, took the students' minds off their classwork and
diverted them to thoughts about the highly emotional subject of the
Vietnam war. . . .
. . . [D]etailed testimony by some of them shows their armbands
caused comments, warnings by other students, the poking of fun at them,
and a warning by an older football player that other, non-protesting
students had better let them alone. There is also evidence that a
teacher of mathematics had his lesson period practically "wrecked"
chiefly by disputes with Mary Beth Tinker, who wore her armband for her
"demonstration." Even a casual reading of the record shows that this
armband did divert students' minds from their regular lessons. . . .
. . . It is a myth to say that any person has a constitutional right
to say what he pleases, where he pleases, and when he pleases. . . .
. . . I wish, therefore, wholly to disclaim any purpose on my part to
hold that the Federal Constitution compels the teachers, parents, and
elected school officials to surrender control of the American public
school system to public school students. . . .
Questions to Consider
Why was Justice Black so concerned about the Court's decision in the Tinker case?
How does Justice Black differ from the majority on how the balance between conflicting rights should be resolved in this case?
Do you think the discussions/disruptions resulting from the
students' protests were significant enough to justify the suppression of
speech? If so, describe protest behavior that would not be significant
enough to justify the suppression of free speech. If not, how serious
would the disruption have to be in order to justify the suppression of