WASHINGTON — The Senate Judiciary Committee gave a nod today to a constitutional amendment to protect the American flag from desecration, moving it to the Senate floor where vote-counters on both sides say it could be within one vote of passing.
The 11-7 vote sent the amendment to the floor. Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., has said the measure will get a Senate vote this month.
To be considered during the patriotic season between this week's Flag Day and the Fourth of July, the amendment's substance and timing are designed to appeal to veterans during this year of midterm elections.
"The Congress shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States," the amendment reads. To become the Constitution's 28th amendment, the language must be approved by two-thirds of those present in each chamber, then ratified within seven years by at least 38 state legislatures. All 50 state legislatures have signaled their willingness to ratify such an amendment.
The House a year ago passed the bill 286-130, more than the required two-thirds of those present to pass. Vote-counters on both sides of the issue say the amendment has commitments of support from 66 senators, one fewer than the required 67 votes if all 100 members of the chamber are present.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California was the lone committee Democrat to vote for the measure, saying its language was designed to protect both the flag and First Amendment free-speech rights.
The committee also rejected an amendment by Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., to replace "desecration" with specific types of defilement. Using the word desecration, he said, would leave the government too much power to define the term.