The Tinkers go back to the Supreme Court

by Ryan Koopmans | January 28, 2015

By Ryan Koopmans

Forty-five years after their free-speech victory over the Des Moines public schools, John and Mary Beth Tinker are going back to the Supreme Court.

In 1965, the Tinkers were among a group of Des Moines students who were suspended from school for wearing black armbands in protest of the Vietnam war. They sued the school on First Amendment grounds, and after the Iowa federal district court and the Eighth Circuit ruled against them, they took their case to the Supreme Court–which ruled in their favor.  The case, Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District,  is a First Amendment icon, which stands for the proposition that students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”

The Tinkers are back at it. Today, they filed an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief in support of several students in Northern California whose school forbid them from wearing American flag T-shirts on Cinco de Mayo out of concern that the shirts would incite racial violence. The Ninth Circuit ruled against the flag-wearing students and cited the Tinker case as support.

The Tinkers think the Ninth Circuit got it wrong, and they’ve enlisted several lawyers, including UCLA professor Eugene Volokh, to urge the Supreme Court to take the case.  Their brief, which is available here, also contains a brief summary of the Tinkers’ free-speech advocacy since their high-school days in Des Moines:

John Tinker is the general manager of KPIP, a low-power community FM radio station in Fayette, Missouri. He is also the editor of Schema-Root.org, a web-based encyclopedia of current events. Each year, he corresponds with dozens of students who are working on school projects related to Tinker v. Des Moines, and several times each year, he speaks publicly in academic settings about the case. Mary Beth Tinker has also been active, and in 2013-14 participated in a nationwide campaign to promote student rights known as the “Tinker Tour.” She traveled more than 25,000 miles by bus and spoke to more than 20,000 students and teachers at over 100 stops that included schools, colleges, churches, youth detention facilities, courts, and several national conventions. See http://tinkertourusa.org/about/tinkertour/. The armband she wore in 1965 is on permanent display at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. See http://www1.newseum.org/news/2013/04/mary-beth-tinker.html. 




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