Facts of the case
In 1984, in front of the Dallas City Hall, Gregory Lee Johnson burned an American flag as a means of protest against Reagan administration policies. Johnson was tried and convicted under a Texas law outlawing flag desecration. He was sentenced to one year in jail and assessed a $2,000 fine. After the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the conviction, the case went to the Supreme Court.
Why is the case important?
A conviction for burning the United States flag based on a Texas law was overturned after the Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) found that the Texas law was unconstitutional.
Whether Defendant’s burning of the flag constituted expressive conduct, permitting him to invoke the First Amendment of the United States Constitution (Constitution)?
Yes. Judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed. The very purpose of a national flag is to serve as a symbol of our country. Pregnant with expressive content, the flag as readily signifies this nation as does the combination of letters found in “America.” Texas conceded that Defendant’s conduct was expressive conduct. He burned the flag as part of a political demonstration. Therefore, Defendant’s burning of the flag constituted expressive conduct thereby permitting him to invoke the First Amendment of the Constitution.
The Supreme Court held that state’s interest in preventing breaches of the peace did not support respondent’s conviction because his conduct did not threaten to disturb the peace. Additionally, the state’s interest in preserving the flag as a symbol of nationhood did not justify the criminal conviction for engaging in political expression. The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals.
- Advocates: Kathi Alyce Drew Argued the cause for the petitioner William M. Kunstler Argued the cause for the respondent
- Petitioner: Texas
- Respondent: Gregory Lee Johnson
- DECIDED BY:Rehnquist Court
- Location: Dallas City Hall
|Citation:||491 US 397 (1989)|
|Argued:||Mar 21, 1989|
|Decided:||Jun 21, 1989|