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TeXas vs Johnson 1989 . Melissa Brownell 2 nd hour 2-28-11. Historical Background. A man named Gregory Johnson attended the Republican National Convention in 1984 in Dallas, Texas. He was a demonstrator protesting the Reagan Administration and certain Companies in Texas

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texas vs johnson 1989

TeXasvs Johnson1989

Melissa Brownell

2nd hour


historical background
Historical Background
  • A man named Gregory Johnson attended the Republican National Convention in 1984 in Dallas, Texas.
  • He was a demonstrator protesting the Reagan Administration and certain Companies in Texas
  • A normal protest of marching, picket signs, expressed opinions
  • A protestor took the American Flag from one of the companies they were rallying against and handed it to Johnson…..
johnson s action
Johnson’s Action:
  • Johnson took the American Flag drenched it in kerosene and set it on fire…
  • While chanting: “America, the red, white, and blue, we spit on you, you stand for plunder, you will go under.”
  • Along with: “Reagan, Mondale, which will it be? Either one means World War III”
state vs gregory lee johnson 1986
State vs. Gregory Lee Johnson1986
  • County Criminal Court Number Eight in Dallas, Texas:
  • Gregory Lee Johnson is arrested after burning the U.S. American flag in the course of the demonstration outside the Republican National Convention in Dallas, Texas (1984)
  • He is convicted of violating a Texas Statute prohibiting the desecration of the flag.
  • * Sentenced to: One year in Prison
                  • 2,000 Dollar fine
gregory lee johnson vs state 1986
Gregory Lee Johnson vs. State1986
  • Court of appeals for Fifth District of Texas:
  • Johnson appeals his case.
  • The Court of Appeals for Fifth District affirms his conviction.
johnson vs state 1988
Johnson vs. State1988
  • Texas Court of Criminal Appeals:
  • Johnson again appeals his case this time to be successful
  • The Court of Criminal Appeals holds that Johnson’s rights under the First Amendment were violated.
  • Johnson’s conviction is overturned
  • Texas Court of Criminal Appeals highest court in Texas that hears criminal cases.
supreme court involvement 1989
Supreme Court Involvement1989

The State of Texas appeals the case to the Supreme Court of the United States, which grants Certiorari.

legal questions
Legal Questions
  • Does nonverbal, expressive conduct count as speech protected by First Amendment?
  • Does Johnson’s burning of the flag constitute expressive conduct?
  • Is the regulation of the state of Texas related to the suppression of free expression, thus violating the first Amendment?
the courts decision
TheCourts Decision
  • The Supreme Court holds a 5 to 4 that the conviction cannot stand because the Texas Statute is Unconstitutional.
  • “The states interest in preventing breaches of the peace does not support the conviction because Johnson’s conduct did not threaten to disturb the peace. Nor does the states interest in preserving the flag as a symbol of the of nationhood and national unity justify his conviction for engaging in political expression”


Voted with Majority

Voted with Minority

  • From left to right:

Scalia, Kennedy, Blackmun, Marshall, Brennan(gave full opinion)

  • From left to right:

O’Conner, Stevens, White, Rehnquist

rehnquist s dissenting opinion
Rehnquist’s Dissenting Opinion
  • The flag is unique and is most revered symbol of our nation. The historical associations make it worthy of protection under the precedents set in Halter vs. Nebraska- flags can’t be used to advertise merchandise, also Chaplinsky vs. NH- can’t address any offensive, derisive, or any person lawfully in the street of public place. The flag burning wasn’t essential to Johnson’s speech and the legislature passed a law so it represents the will of the majority and should stand.
stevens dissenting opinion
Stevens Dissenting Opinion
  • The value of the flag as a symbol can not be measured. More than just a representation of nationhood, it also stands for freedom, religious tolerance, ect. and to desecrate it tarnishes it’s value. The problem with Johnson’s expression was the method and the flag is an intangible asset that warrants protection.
kennedys concurring opinion
Kennedys Concurring Opinion
  • This is the right decision, though it is unfortunate that the veterans may feel dishonored.
  • Brennan provides past examples where nonverbal actions were said to count as speech.
  • Tinker vs. Des Moines Independent Community School District: wearing arm bands to oppose Vietnam war.
  • Brown vs. Louisiana: segregation sit ins
  • Schacht vs. United States: wearing military uniform to protest Vietnam
  • Various picketing cases
  • Cases have demonstrated that offense of some is not justification to limit certain behaviors as in:

-Street vs. NY: can’t punish someone for disparaging the flag verbally.

public support
Public Support
  • Most of the public viewed the flag burning as wrong.
  • Veterans were especially disturbed by Johnsons display.
  • An article in the New York Times describes the actions Johnson took as being wrong but they believe in the first amendment and Johnson not being in trouble.
in my opinion
In My Opinion:
  • Based on the First Amendment standpoint I think Johnson should be protected from any conviction because he didn’t harm anyone and he was in protest displaying his feeling toward the issue.
  • As from a moral and ethical standpoint his actions are disturbing and I think he was totally wrong for what he did. He took his protest to an extreme and offended a lot of America, but he has to live with that.
  • 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.
  • As evidenced, by the courts ruling, which was contrary to, and overturned the laws of forty-eight states.
works cited
Works Cited
  • www.streetlaw.org
  • www.newyorktimes.com
  • www.abortle.wordpress.com
  • Google images