The Rules: Post info about ONE Supreme Court decision, modern or historic, to your lj. (Any decision, as long as it’s not Roe v. Wade.)For those who see this on your f-list, take the meme to your OWN lj to spread the fun. OR, if you’ve done it already, just comment here (withthe case).

Of all the Supreme Court cases I could choose for this, my favorite case is and probably always will be TINKER v. DES MOINES SCHOOL DIST. (1969). For those who don’t know, here’s a quick summary of the case from Findlaw.com:

Petitioners, three public school pupils in Des Moines, Iowa, were suspended from school for wearing black armbands to protest the Government’s policy in Vietnam. They sought nominal damages and an injunction against a regulation that the respondents had promulgated banning the wearing of armbands. The District Court dismissed the complaint on the ground that the regulation was within the Board’s power, despite the absence of any finding of substantial interference with the conduct of school activities. The Court of Appeals, sitting en banc, affirmed by an equally divided court. Held:

    1. In wearing armbands, the petitioners were quiet and passive. They were not disruptive and did not impinge upon the rights of others. In these circumstances, their conduct was within the protection of the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth. Pp. 505-506.

    2. First Amendment rights are available to teachers and students,subject to application in light of the special characteristics of the school environment. Pp. 506-507.

    3. A prohibition against expression of opinion, without any evidence that the rule is necessary to avoid substantial interference with school discipline or the rights of others, is not permissible under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Pp. 507-514.

What this case did was demonstrate that the rights of students did not end at the schoolhouse door. When the school bell rings, whether they can vote or not, students are still citizens of the United States and have, by right, the same authority over themselves and their behavior as any other citizen. They are allowed to state their opinions openly and without having to worry about any form of government, be it federal or the local school board, punishing them for expressing those opinions in a peaceful way.

I like this passage from the opinion written by Justice Fortas:

But, in our system, undifferentiated fear or apprehension of disturbance is not enough to overcome the right to freedom of expression. Any departure from absolute regimentation may cause trouble. Any variation from the majority’s opinion may inspire fear. Any word spoken, in class, in the lunchroom, or on the campus, that deviates from the views of another person may start an argument or cause a disturbance. But our Constitution says we must take this risk, and our history says that it is this sort of hazardous freedom – this kind of openness – that is the basis of our national strength and of the independence and vigor of Americans who grow up and live in this relatively permissive,often disputatious, society.

This states, quite plainly, that the nature of American freedom is not passive and easily controlled. In an era where we have the government taking larger and larger liberties, we have a VP who’s found a way to squirm out of having to follow any rules, we have the pushing of greater executive power and the disappearance of the rights of the people to say what they want or expect that the government will stay out of their private affairs, all in the name of “safety” because we’re afraid of “terrorists,” it’s important to remember that it’s better to be perfectly free than perfectly safe.

The rapidity with which citizens are accused of being disloyal or unpatriotic in this country is frightening, often for opposing the policies of a government that has turned its back on the American people in favor of personal friendships, unrelated grudges, and unchecked greed and avarice. We are in the middle of a crisis and there are people who have shifted their loyalty from a lame duck president whom they would have followed off a cliff (and did, metaphorically) a year ago to the Republican nominee for that same position, arguing that anyone opposed to their policies somehow hates America. However, what this case demonstrated, and what Mr. Justice Fortas articulated, was that it is the free, unfettered exchange of ideas that makes this country special.

Another quote from this opinion:

Under our Constitution, free speech is not a right that is given only to be so circumscribed that it exists in principle but not in fact. Freedom of expression would not truly exist if the right could be exercised only in an area that a benevolent government has provided as a safe haven for crackpots. The Constitution says that Congress (and the States) may not abridge the right to free speech. This provision means what it says. We properly read it to permit reasonable regulation of speech-connected activities in carefully restricted circumstances. But we do not confine the permissible exercise of First Amendment rights to a telephone booth or the four corners of a pamphlet, or to supervised and ordained discussion in a school classroom.

Fortas also made heavy use of quotes from other cases in his opinion, all of them poignant, on point, and inspiring in their own ways. This one is one of my favorites, and I’ve been using it since I was trying to argue for my own behavior in high school. It comes from West Virginia v Barnette and was written by Justice Jackson:

“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. These have, of course, important, delicate, and highly discretionary functions, but none that they may not perform within the limits of the Bill of Rights. That they are educating the young for citizenship is reason for scrupulous protection of Constitutional freedoms of the individual, if we are not to strangle the free mind at its source and teach youth to discount important principles of our government as mere platitudes.”

When I was in high school I was, rather condescendingly, told by adults that when I got older I would agree with them. They said that if I worked in a school and saw how hard it was to deal with students, when I was also an adult, I would see with a different perspective that would reveal to me, quite clearly, that abridging the rights of students is the only way to run an educational institution with any sort of efficiency or teach anything worth value.

Well, I’ll be turning 26 next month. I have a job of my own, a life of my own, a place of my own, a college degree, and have been making choices for myself for years, so I think I qualify as an adult. Not only do I work in the school system, I’m a substitute teacher, who is given less authority and held to nearly the same scrutiny as full-time teachers, and I still don’t believe that the rights of a student should be stopped because it’s inconvenient for teachers and administrators or has the potential to cause problems. So often people are willing to abridge the rights of others in the name of “potential.” I’m not willing to prevent a single person from exercising the rights assigned to them by the greatest law in the land until something “actual” is presented.

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