Court Decisions
"Probably no Supreme Court case in our history since the infamous Dred Scott decision of 1857 has elicited such a spontaneous outburst of rage, anger, and sadness on the part of the American people." --Rep. Benjamin Gilman, after the Johnson verdict (113).
The United States' Supreme Court has ruled on many cases involving burning the American flag. So far, the Court has protected the right to citizens' expression of free speech, even in burning the flag. However, the battle has not yet ended. With the recent terrorist attacks and the increased national pride felt by citizens, this issue may become a top priority with some Americans.

The precedent for the controversial cases that would rock the late 80's and early 90's was the 1968 ruling of U.S. v. O'Brien. The decision made in this case would be central to the 1989-90 flag protection controversey. O'Brien burned his draft card in protest to the Vietnam War, and was convicted. In 1965, Congress had outlawed burning draft cards as a means to prevent young men from avoiding the draft. The Court ruled that O'Brien's actions were merely to protest the war, not to draft-dodge, and aquitted him (Goldstein, 21-22).

Texas v. Johnson The primary case involving flag burning was Texas v. Johnson. During Reagan's renomination at the Republican National Convention in Dallas, on August 22, 1984, a group of about 100 protestors marched their way through the city, angered by Reagan's foreign policy approaches and other aspects of his presidency. Protestors ended their march at the city hall, where they crowded around in a circle and burned an American flag in the center. The incident was not covered with much notice, but soon the Dallas police filed new charges against Gregory Lee Johnson and seven other protestors (32-33).

On June 21, 1989, by a 5-4 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals had violated Johnson's First Amendment rights when they prosecuted him for burning a flag as a means of political protest. President George H. Bush was outraged at the verdict, and propsed adding a Constitutional Amendment to overturn the Johnson ruling (112-115).

The next case, which came about shortly after the Johnson decision, was U.S. v. Eichman, where the Court reemphasized their views on protecting the flag and struck down the act that was recently created by Congress, called the Flag Protection Act. This act tried to protect the desecration of American flags, but was seen as a violation of free speech by the Court. Shawn Eichman, a friend of Gregory Johnson's who was convicted of violating the law when he burned a flag in protest to the FPA's passage, appealed to the Court and won his case. The FPA was a complete violation of the ideals that were enforced in the Johnson case, and so the Court merely reinforced the viewpoints they explained in the previous case. Supreme Court cases usually take nine months to hear and to reach a verdict, but the Eichman case was closed after only four weeks (295-300).

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