Texas Vs Johnson Case Review

Section I: Summary of the case

This research paper gives the insights and relevance on the limits of the question, “Is the desecration of an American flag by burning or otherwise, a form of speech that is protected under the first Amendment?” The critical elements of the First Amendment which state that, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances,” is put into scrutiny as the landmark Supreme Court case of Texas v. Johnson, 1989 gets to be overturned by the Rehnquist Court(Marion 418).

It was during the 1984 Republican National Convention, respondent Gregory Lee Johnson participated in a political demonstration protesting the policies of the administration of President Reagan and some of the Dallas-based corporations. They made a march through the city streets after which Johnson burned an American flag as protester chanted. The burning of the flag caused no physical injuries to anyone or even no one was threatened with injury as a result of the burning but several witnesses were offended with the act of burning the American flag. Johnson was consequently convicted of desecration of a venerated object in form of violating a Texas statute, as was affirmed by a state court of appeal. However, this decision was reversed by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, stating that, the State when consistent with the provisions of the First Amendment, could not impose punishment on Johnson for burning the flag in such circumstances.

Section II: Arguments for the Plaintiff

  • The American flag which uniquely symbolizesthe power of liberty and equality is worth protection from the unnecessary desecration.
  • Prohibiting the burning of flag was to preserve the flag as a symbol of national unity.

Section III: Defendant Arguments

  • Section IV: Who won? The American flag was burned as Ronald Reagan was re-nominated to be President. There was no chance to make a more symbolic speech whether one agrees or not at that time and therefore burning of the flag just an expression of a position.
  • The burning of the flag would only offensive and could be prohibited as expressive speech to prevent breaches of peace if it would be considered an incitement. However, no such disturbances of peace was experienced when Johnson burned the flag.

In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court overruled the previous conviction and ruled in favor of the Defendant, Gregory Lee Johnson. The justices in the majority led by the Justice Brennan stated that Johnson’s burning of the American flag was an expressive conduct which was protected in the elements of the First Amendment. Moreover, the justices in the majority stated that as long as the Court recognized the First Amendment’s protection does not end at written or spoken word but would extent to a conduct sufficiently imbued with the elements of communication which fall within the scope of the First Amendment (Marion 407). As Justice Kennedy concurs with the majority, he acclaims that, “It is poignant but fundamental that the flag protects those who hold it in contempt.”

On the other hand, Justices Stevens, O’Connor, White, and Rehnquist dissented the ruling. Justice Rehnquist gave acknowledgement to the special place the flag holds by referring to it as “visible symbol embodying our nation” and as regard of mystical reverence by the American people, it is constitutionally permissible to ensure protection on burning of the flag as a show of symbolic expression (Marion 418). Additionally, Justice Stevens on his dissenting argument stated that the flag should be protected from unnecessary desecration as it denotes a unique symbolization of the power of the nation’s liberty and equality among its citizens.

Section V: Consequences and Implications of the ruling

  1. On the Defendant- (the one who won)

In a 5-4 voting decision, the Supreme Court ruled for the case defendant, Johnson. Justice Brennan while writing the opinion for the majority, stated that Johnson’s act of burning the American flag was an expressive conduct which was protected by the First Amendment.

The effect of the ruling in favor of Johnson first resulted to upholding of the First Amendment on the freedom of expression nationwide. The entire nation appreciated the extent to which the American democracy has enhanced to in which they is total uphold of rule of law and freedom of expression as long it invoke the peace of the people.

The immediate negative reaction to the ruling is that there was a disruptive actions taken by the protesters who prior to arriving at the City Hall due to a feeling that no charges were put on Johnson as a result of such a conduct (Goldstein 342). Secondly, a group of individuals lost the faith on the Supreme Court as a result of the ruling as they felt very agitated with the conduct of Johnson of burning the American flag.

The immediate positive reaction on the ruling was the confidence restoration on those individuals who believed that the Supreme Court gave a fair hearing to the Case and the verdict was restoring their confidence on the courts.

  1. On the plaintiff (the one who lost the case)

The case was finally ruled in favor of the defendant that his action was an expressive conduct of protesting against President Reagan’s administration and other Texas corporations which was protected in the First Amendment (Goldstein 389).

This verdict resulted in creating emphasis on the Texas State policies on the rule of law as a number of residents showed less confidence as the case was overruled by the Supreme Court.

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