Tuesday, November 29, 2016
Daily Reminder: Of Flag Burning and Loss of Citizenship for Criminal Conviction
The United States Supreme Court has held that flag burning as expressive speech is protected by the First Amendment and that loss of citizenship is not a constitutional punishment for a crime.
In Texas v. Johnson (1989), the Court declared:
If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable. . . . In short, nothing in our precedents suggests that a State may foster its own view of the flag by prohibiting expressive conduct relating to it.. . . There is, moreover, no indication -- either in the text of the Constitution or in our cases interpreting it -- that a separate juridical category exists for the American flag alone. Indeed, we would not be surprised to learn that the persons who framed our Constitution and wrote the Amendment that we now construe were not known for their reverence for the Union Jack. The First Amendment does not guarantee that other concepts virtually sacred to our Nation as a whole -- such as the principle that discrimination on the basis of race is odious and destructive -- will go unquestioned in the marketplace of ideas. . . .
We are tempted to say, in fact, that the flag's deservedly cherished place in our community will be strengthened, not weakened, by our holding today. Our decision is a reaffirmation of the principles of freedom and inclusiveness that the flag best reflects, and of the conviction that our toleration of criticism such as Johnson's is a sign and source of our strength. Indeed, one of the proudest images of our flag, the one immortalized in our own national anthem, is of the bombardment it survived at Fort McHenry. It is the Nation's resilience, not its rigidity, that Texas sees reflected in the flag -- and it is that resilience that we reassert today.
The way to preserve the flag's special role is not to punish those who feel differently about these matters. It is to persuade them that they are wrong.
To courageous, self-reliant men, with confidence in the power of free and fearless reasoning applied through the processes of popular government, no danger flowing from speech can be deemed clear and present unless the incidence of the evil apprehended is so imminent that it may befall before there is opportunity for full discussion. If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to bee applied is more speech, not enforced silence.
Whitney v. California(1927) (Brandeis, J., concurring). And, precisely because it is our flag that is involved, one's response to the flag-burner may exploit the uniquely persuasive power of the flag itself. We can imagine no more appropriate response to burning a flag than waving one's own, no better way to counter a flag burner's message than by saluting the flag that burns, no surer means of preserving the dignity even of the flag that burned than by -- as one witness here did -- according its remains a respectful burial. We do not consecrate the flag by punishing its desecration, for in doing so we dilute the freedom that this cherished emblem represents.
During the oral argument in Texas v. Johnson, the late Justice Scalia, who joined the Court's opinion, expressed scorn for the notion that the flag should be insulated from the First Amendment protections of speech. In a colloquy with the attorney for the State of Texas, Justice Scalia wondered if Texas could similarly criminalize desecration of the state flower, the blue bonnet. Scalia then remarked:
Well, how do you pick out what to protect?
I mean, you know, if I had to pick between the Constitution and the flag, I might well go with the Constitution.
As for the constitutionality of "loss of citizenship" as punishment for a criminal violation, the United States Supreme Court, in Trop v. Dulles (1958), declared that "Citizenship is not a license that expires upon misbehavior." In considering a statute that revoked citizenship for desertion by a member of the armed forces, the Court stated that the
use of denationalization as a punishment is barred by the Eighth Amendment. There may be involved no physical mistreatment, no primitive torture. There is instead the total destruction of the individual's status in organized society. It is a form of punishment more primitive than torture, for it destroys for the individual the political existence that was centuries in the development. The punishment strips the citizen of his status in the national and international political community. His very existence is at the sufferance of the country in which he happens to find himself. While any one country may accord him some rights, and presumably as long as he remained in this country he would enjoy the limited rights of an alien, no country need do so because he is stateless. Furthermore, his enjoyment of even the limited rights of an alien might be subject to termination at any time by reason of deportation. In short, the expatriate has lost the right to have rights.
This punishment is offensive to cardinal principles for which the Constitution stands. It subjects the individual to a fate of ever-increasing fear and distress. He knows not what discriminations may be established against him, what proscriptions may be directed against him, and when and for what cause his existence in his native land may be terminated. He may be subject to banishment, a fate universally decried by civilized people. He is stateless, a condition deplored in the international community of democracies. It is no answer to suggest that all the disastrous consequences of this fate may not be brought to bear on a stateless person. The threat makes the punishment obnoxious.
The civilized nations of the world are in virtual unanimity that statelessness is not to be imposed as punishment for crime.
Thus it seems that the president-elect's sentiment is at odds with our constitutional precedent.
Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag - if they do, there must be consequences - perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 29, 2016