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Texas v. Johnson
Transcript of Texas v. Johnson
Defendant: Gregory Lee Johnson Gregory Lee Johnson against the State of Texas. What? Johnson burning an American flag in protest of the Reagan administration. The act of protest occurred in 1984, but the court decision didn't come until 1989. Johnson burning an American flag in protest of the Reagan administration. When? Where? The conviction and trial occurred in Dallas, Texas. Why? Johnson's first amendment rights were being violated because burning a flag in protest is considered free spech. Original Decision Chart Appeal Process Supreme Court Justices Ruling Opinion Dissenting Opinion Johnson was originally arrested and charged with desecration of a venerated object. He was convicted, sentenced to one year in prison, and fined $2,000. Chief Justice William Rehnquist Did not agree with the majority decision. William J. Brennan, Jr. Agreed with the outcome of the case. Thurgood Marshall Agreed with the outcome of the case. Harry Blackmun Agreed with the outcome of the case. Antonin Scalia Agreed with the outcome of the case. Anthony Kennedy Agreed with the outcome of the case. Byron White Did not agree with the majority decision. John P. Stevens Did not agree with the majority decision. Sandra Day O'Connor Did not agree with the majority decision. Portion of the Constitution Involved This trial was based upon the first amendment. The argument in this case was that a statute that criminalizes the desecration of the American flag is in violation of our first amendment rights. Being convicted for such a crime is taking away freedom of speech. Effect of the Supreme Court Decision Johnson on the right. The supreme court decided that Johnson's conduct was expressive in nature, so he had freedom of expression. They also found that no disturbance of the peace actually occurred by Johnson burning the flag. They ruled that convicting Johnson of desecration of the flag was a violation to his first amendment rights. The supreme court found that he was being denied his freedom of speech. Rehnquist's Dissent: Steven's Dissent: The American flag, then, throughout more than 200 years of our history, has come to be the visible symbol embodying our Nation. It does not represent the views of any particular political party, and it does not represent any particular political philosophy. The flag is not simply another "idea" or "point of view" competing for recognition in the marketplace of ideas. Millions and millions of Americans regard it with an almost mystical reverence regardless of what sort of social, political, or philosophical beliefs they may have. I cannot agree that the First Amendment invalidates the Act of Congress, and the laws of 48 of the 50 States, which make criminal the public burning of the flag. Stevens argued that the flag "is more than a proud symbol of the courage, the determination, and the gifts of nature that transformed 13 fledgling Colonies into a world power. It is a symbol of freedom, of equal opportunity, of religious tolerance, and of good will for other peoples who share our aspirations...The value of the flag as a symbol cannot be measured." Stevens concluded, therefore, that "The case has nothing to do with 'disagreeable ideas.' It involves disagreeable conduct that, in my opinion, diminishes the value of an important national asset," and that Johnson was punished only for the means by which he expressed his opinion, not the opinion itself. The Supreme court's decision invalidated laws in 48 out of 50 states. The issue is controversial but most Americans still support a ban on flag burning. Congress passed a statute making it a federal crime to desecrate an American flag. Johnson appealed his conviction to the Fifth Court of Appeals of Texas, but lost. His case was then seen by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. This was the highest court that would see criminal appeals, and his conviction was overturned because they found that it was in violation of his first amendment rights.