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Landmark Cases of the U.S. Supreme Court

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The Editorial Staff of the Valley High School Voice Reacts

The Supreme Court of the United States has just issued its ruling in the case of Tinker v. Des Moines. You are an editor for the Valley Voice, your school newspaper. You believe that students in your school should have an understanding of the Court's decision on the issue of symbolic student speech. Therefore, you decide to dedicate an issue of the Voice to addressing this topic. After soliciting editorials from the student body, you must decide which editorials to print.

Choose two editorials to print from the four below by determining the accuracy of their information. One editorial should explain and support the Court's ruling and the other should explain how the Court "got it wrong."

Editorial Number One: "Power to the People!"

Last week, the Supreme Court of the United States (a.k.a. "The Court of Last Resort") finally got it right in the case of Tinker v. Des Moines. In this case, involving students' protests against American involvement in the Vietnam War, the Court at last realized that school officials couldn't tell students what to do. The Court, in its ruling, basically stated that, since schools are supported by the public's tax money, school officials are actually the employees of students and their parents. Therefore, as employees, school officials cannot force either students or their parents to "behave" and "follow school rules" without violating the First Amendment of the Constitution. When acknowledging that both middle and high school students could wear black armbands to advertise their opinion on American foreign policy, the Court agreed that students have virtually limitless rights to protest anything they don't like, even if the protests upset a few other students or teachers.

  1. Does this editorial support or attack the Court's ruling in Tinker?

  2. What does the author think the Court's ruling literally means?

  3. Compare the author's understanding of the Court's ruling with the majority and dissenting opinions. Is the author providing an accurate explanation of the Court's decision? Why or why not?

Editorial Number Two: "Teaching the Values of Democracy"

Last week the Supreme Court of the United States restated, through the case of Tinker v. Des Moines that freedom of speech means exactly that. The Court's interpretation of the First Amendment to the Constitution was right on the mark in Tinker, it ruled. . . . "The Fourteenth Amendment, as now applied to the States, protects the citizen against the State itself and all of its creatures - Boards of Education not excepted. . . . [As]they are educating the young for citizenship [they must offer] scrupulous protection of Constitutional freedoms of the individual . . . [in order] not to . . . teach youth to discount important principles of our government as mere platitudes. . . . " As much as teachers might want their classrooms to be fully controlled and directed by them, the Court has taught an important lesson to all American educators: students are citizens too, and the best way to teach citizenship is to recognize and encourage it.

  1. Does this editorial support or attack the Court's ruling in Tinker?

  2. What does the author think the Court's ruling literally means?

  3. Compare the author's understanding of the Court's ruling with the majority and dissenting opinions. Is the author providing an accurate explanation of the Court's decision? Why or why not?

Editorial Number Three: "Apple Anyone?"

Imagine this. A student in social studies class decides to make public the fact that he hates women. During a debate on the role of women in the military, he "goes off", calling women (in general) obscene names. Enraged, he begins to recount the biblical tale of Adam and Eve and says that sin in the world exists only because of Eve's faults. Furthermore, he says, because woman brought sin into the world, women should be removed for reasons of world purification. Can he do this?

According to the Court's recent ruling in the case of Tinker v. Des Moines, the answer is "yes"! If the student attended an all-male high school and no evidence existed that his statements might "substantially interfere with the work of the school or impinge upon the rights of other students", the student is free to spout such nonsense. In this ruling, the Court said that, "without evidence that a student's political comments might lead to imminent disruption" he might express himself as he wishes. Absurd, isn't it?

Oh, by the way apple, anyone?

  1. Does this editorial support or attack the Court's ruling in Tinker?

  2. What does the author think the Court's ruling literally means?

  3. Compare the author's understanding of the Court's ruling with the majority and dissenting opinions. Is the author providing an accurate explanation of the Court's decision? Why or why not?

Editorial Number Four: "Free Speech" is a myth

Supreme Court Justice Black, in his minority opinion for Tinker v. Des Moines, says, "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 . . . " Unfortunately for Justice Black, the majority of the Court disagreed. In a decision upholding the right of students to wear black armbands protesting American involvement in the Vietnam War, the Court held that without evidence that a student's political comments might lead to imminent disruption he can express himself as he wishes. The problem with the Court's reasoning in this case is that there was evidence that the armbands caused disruption in school. " [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". This is clearly a case of imminent disruption, and should therefore be prohibited by schools in order to ensure a safe and protective environment for students. Otherwise, what speech will be considered disruptive enough?

  1. Does this editorial support or attack the Court's ruling in Tinker?

  2. What does the author think the Court's ruling literally means?

  3. Compare the author's understanding of the Court's ruling with the majority and dissenting opinions. Is the author providing an accurate explanation of the Court's decision? Why or why not?

Which two should be printed?

1.

2.

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