The Judiciary’s observance of Law Day this year focuses on four students who brought historic cases to the federal courts that led to desegregation of public schools and shaped students’ First Amendment rights.
A new Law Day resources page features relatable, easy-to-follow activities in which students reenact historical accounts or argue constitutional issues in landmark cases important to young people.
Celebrated on May 1 and throughout the month, Law Day has been a visible part of American legal culture since President Eisenhower established it in 1958 to celebrate the rule of law in a free society.
The four cases featured on the Law Day page are:
Westminster v. Mendez (1947): Nine-year-old Sylvia Mendez and her parents sued to open California’s public schools to Hispanic students. A historical reenactment gives voice to the figures involved in the case, including Thurgood Marshall, who as a lawyer represented the family and won the case in the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. In 1967, Marshall became the first African American justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Brown v. Board of Education (1954): Linda Brown, a third-grader in Topeka, Kansas, and her family joined a lawsuit seeking to desegregate public schools after their attempt to enroll her in an all-white elementary school was rejected. A historical reenactment sheds light on the perspectives of those involved in the case, including Thurgood Marshall, who represented the Brown family. In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court ruled that segregation of public schools violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.
Tinker v. Des Moines (1969): Mary Beth Tinker, 13, was suspended from school after wearing an armband to protest the Vietnam War. The Supreme Court ruled in a 7-2 decision that neither students nor teachers “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” In an educational activity, the facts of the Tinker case are updated and fictionalized to make the same issues relevant today. The revised scenario centers on a school walkout protesting the administration’s imposition of a dress code prohibiting clothing with potentially offensive messages.
Morse v. Frederick (2007): Joseph Frederick, a senior at Juneau-Douglas High School, held up a banner that read, “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” during the Olympic Torch Relay through Juneau, Alaska, on Jan. 24, 2002. The Supreme Court ultimately upheld his suspension, ruling that schools could ban speech that appears to encourage illegal drug use. In a fictionalized scenario, a student is suspended for displaying a sign during a rally to lower the minimum voting age.
Find more programs and resources about cases that have an impact on contemporary teens in the Educational Activities section.
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