Analyzing the Text
The court holds that the petitioners were not disruptive, that freedom of speech is available to students and teachers, and that regulations barring free speech without proof that the speech will actually disrupt school discipline is unconstitutional. The amendments at stake here are the 1st and 4th.
He says that the apprehension of a disturbance is not enough to warrant the banning of free speech. He says that by their very nature, schools are places in which many ideas are exchanged – and, he adds, some of these ideas will doubtless cause disruption of their own. Here, he is saying that there is no difference between the armbands and other forms of speech that occur on school grounds and so no rule should be made regarding armbands.
Pure speech refers to the spoken or written word. (In contrast, symbolic speech would be something that isn’t uttered or written down, such as the wearing of an armband.)
Justice Fortas believes that judges should have the right to decide whether a law is unconstitutional or not, similar to the way that the school officials believe they have the right to decide that black armbands denouncing the war are not permitted but buttons in support of political campaigns are.
Justice Black brings up cases which do not relate to schoolchildren and do not use the “reasonableness test,” arguing that previous examples given by other Justices are invalid.
Justice Black worries that the Court is making decisions for schools when school officials know what is best for their schools because they work there on a daily basis. He claims that previous cases are not applicable in this situation and that children and teachers have a different relationship. Children are not mature adults so they do not have the same rights/ freedoms.
Justice Fortas brings up Burnside v. Byars, which he quotes as the law to determine the outcome of this case. Similarly, Justice Black discusses Cox v. Louisiana, which he argues has already disproven the idea that anyone can say whatever they want at any time because of the First Amendment Right to Free Speech.