Texas Vs. Johnson: Supreme Court Case Essay

The Texas v. Johnson (1989) supreme court case is very important. It was a landmark supreme court case, and decided for all future court cases how the first amendment would be interpreted. They had to look at and determine the extent of the phrase, “freedom of speech”. Johnson’s action of burning an American flag was to be reviewed and they would have to decide whether his action counted as “freedom of speech,” and if it was protected by the first amendment. It turned out to be that his action was protected by the first amendment.

Protection of the American flag does not come before the freedom to express political ideas. It was in Dallas, Texas that the Republican National Convention was being held in, it was the year of 1984. There was a crowd there protesting against the republican president, and Johnson was part of the group, protesting with them. (Miller 6) During the expressing of displeasure by this group, a protester pulled down an american flag and handed it to Johnson. Johnson then, to many peoples shock and displeasure, set the flag on fire and burned it. Miller 6) He was desecrating and disrespecting the nation’s symbol which the state had an interest in protecting and believed that its interests were more important than Johnson’s dissatisfaction. (Miller 59-61)

Johnson was then sued by Texas, who had a law against flag desecration. (Miller 6) Johnson argued against their conviction, saying that his action was political and was protected by the first amendment. (Miller 6-8) He was convicted and he appealed to higher courts until he reached the supreme court. The state of Texas argued that Johnson was breaching the peace and could have caused violence. Miller 64) In the Texas v. Johnson (1989) case, the supreme court held, by a close vote of 5-4, that Johnson’s actions were symbolic speech and were protected by the first amendment.

They decided that Texas’s law against flag desecration was too vague and they denied that his actions could have caused violence. They believed his actions were freedom of speech and quoted the Free Speech Clause. Justice Brennan wrote the opinion for the majority vote. They believed that Johnson’s actions were enough communication to be protected by the Free Speech Clause. Miller 77) They rejected Texas’s argument that his actions caused a breach of peace and could have caused violence, and said that the average person would not retaliate from such actions. About protecting the nation’s symbol, the Court said that the government cannot stop the expression of an idea just because it is offensive or disagreeable. (Miller 77-78)

Their concluding statement was “We do not consecrate the flag by punishing its desecration, for in doing so we dilute the freedom that this cherished emblem represents. (Miller 78) A dissenting opinion was written by Chief Justice Rehnquist who quoted famous sayings and poems for a patriotic and passionate viewpoint and brought up the American flag’s colorful history. He wrote “flag burning is the equivalent of an inarticulate grunt or roar that, it seems fair to say, is most likely to be indulged in not to express any particular idea, but to antagonize others. ” The case of Texas v. Johnson (1989) important because it fully defined the meaning of the Freedom Speech Clause.

It gives the people the freedom of expressing their ideas, even unpopular ones, and communicating their ideas. People can now express their opinions and argue for their view point. Before the Texas v. Johnson (1989) case, people got put in jail for expressing offensive ideas. If society didn’t agree, they could get put in jail. The Johnson case allows Americans to express unpopular ideas and be assured that they won’t be punished, even if they do something offensive. (Miller 95) This case was used later in history to protect freedom of speech and communications of olitical ideas that were unpopular and disagreeable.

The Texas v. Johnson (1989) case caused an uproar after its result. The government made attempts to overrule the Johnson case ruling. President George Bush proposed to make an amendment to the constitution to override the ruling. None of the attempts worked though. The Supreme Court held firm in its decision saying that even though it might be disagreeable, it is a right that is needed for true freedom of speech. It hasn’t been overturned to this day. It was a fair ruling.

It might be repulsive, but it is the freedom of expressing your opinion, which the founding fathers wanted Americans to have. In the Texas v. Johnson (1989) ruling the Court said “If there is a bedrock principle underlying the Firs Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because the society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable. ” (Miller 78) In a later ruling against overruling Johnson’s case the Court said that the Constitution does not change with popular opinion. (Miller 91) America is a republic democracy.

The people are entitled to freedom of speech and ideas just how the Johnson ruling went. The people can’t do as they please though. America is republic, meaning that the laws must still be followed. The supreme law of the land is the Constitution. The Constitution states in its first amendment that “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech. ” (Miller 8) It is clearly meant for the people to be able to state their ideas without being put in jail. The Johnson case assured Americans that they could express their ideas, even if they were unpopular and offensive, without fear of being punished.