WASHINGTON — A Senate subcommittee approved a constitutional amendment yesterday that would allow Congress to take steps to protect the U.S. flag from desecration.
“There are many ways to express one’s political views, but there is only one U.S. flag, and it deserves constitutional protection,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. Cornyn is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Property Rights.
The amendment, S.J. RES. 4, was approved 5-4 along party lines.
Changing the Constitution requires approval of two-thirds of both chambers of Congress and three-fourths of the nation’s state legislatures. The bill now goes to the full committee.
Sen. Russell Feingold, the subcommittee’s ranking Democrat, said he opposes the proposed amendment.
“We are talking here today about amending the Constitution of the United States to permit the government to criminalize conduct that, however misguided and wrong, is clearly expressive, and sometimes undertaken as a form of political protest. I cannot support this course,” said Feingold, D-Wis.
Until recently, 48 states had laws protecting the flag. The federal government enacted such a law in 1968, Cornyn said. But the U.S. Supreme Court in 1989 ruled 5-4 in Texas v. Johnson that desecration of the flag constitutes free speech protected by the First Amendment.
In 1990, Congress passed another law protecting the flag, but the Supreme Court that year in United States v. Eichman, another 5-4 ruling, struck it down as unconstitutional.
The House has approved a flag-protection constitutional amendment in the last five congressional sessions. The Senate last voted on it in 2000. Sixty-three senators voted in favor of the amendment, four votes short of those needed for approval.