Local Politics

Trump suggests 'consequences' for any flag-burners

Posted 4:04 p.m. Tuesday
Updated 4:06 p.m. Tuesday

FILE - In this July 20, 2016 file photo, a law enforcement officer takes Gregory "Joey" Johnson into custody after he started to burn an American flag in Cleveland, during the third day of the Republican convention. President-elect Donald Trump said Tuesday that anyone who burns an American flag should face unspecified "consequences," such as jail or a loss of citizenship _ a move that was ruled out by the Supreme Court nearly three decades ago. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

— President-elect Donald Trump said Tuesday that anyone who burns an American flag should face unspecified "consequences," such as jail or a loss of citizenship. But the Supreme Court has held that flag-burning is a form of speech protected by the First Amendment, and the Constitution forbids the government removal of citizenship for a natural-born American.

Top congressional Republicans quickly distanced themselves from Trump's views.

Trump's words, expressed on Twitter early Tuesday morning, put him at odds with the late Justice Antonin Scalia, who was in the majority in the 1989 decision that protected flag burning. Trump has called Scalia, who died in February, a great judge and said he would appoint someone to fill Scalia's seat who is much like the conservative legal icon.

"Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag — if they do, there must be consequences — perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!" Trump said in a tweet.

It was not immediately clear what prompted the tweet, but just an hour before, FOX News had aired a story about college students who burned a flag.

But in 1989, Scalia signed onto an opinion written by the liberal Justice William Brennan that struck down a criminal conviction under Texas law for burning a flag during a political protest.

Asked about that vote decades later in an interview on CNN, Scalia said he would outlaw flag-burning "if I were king." But the First Amendment exists to protect "speech critical of the government. That's the main type of speech tyrants would seek to suppress," he said.

The White House echoed Tuesday that the First Amendment should prevail in such matters.

"We have a responsibility as a country" to carefully protect the rights enshrined in the Constitution, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said, adding that the burning of the U.S. flag offends most Americans, himself included.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said that he does not "support or believe in the idea of people burning the American flag. I support the First Amendment." He added that Congress has no plans to take action against flag burning.

And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky weighed in against Trump too, saying: "The Supreme Court has held that that activity is a protected First Amendment right, a form of unpleasant speech, and in this country we have a long tradition of respecting unpleasant speech. I happen to support the Supreme Court's decision on that matter."


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  • Howard Roark Nov 29, 11:05 p.m.
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    Thomas Jefferson on the Bill of Rights, aka the First Ten Amendments..

    "A bill of rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth, general or particular; and what no just government should refuse, or rest on inferences." --Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 1787. ME 6:388, Papers 12:440

    "I hope, therefore, a bill of rights will be formed to guard the people against the federal government as they are already guarded against their State governments, in most instances." --Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 1788. ME 7:98

    IMO, Jefferson makes it pretty clear that these are not "non-absolute" rights. However, Trump's open opinion on flag burning and freedom of the press flies in the face of the 1st amendment, as interpreted by the SCOTUS.

    Do you feel that gun rights advocates agree your opinion on non-absolute constitutional rights? I don't think my ideology is the threat here...

  • Buster Brown Nov 29, 10:45 p.m.
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    Sir, rest well assured you do not in the least threaten any of my rights. However, the ideology you espouse does in that it wants to make all of the rights in the constitution absolute---regardless of consequences. NONE of the rights in the constitution are absolute--each has its limits and those limits should be enforced. Neither do any of those rights favor one side or the other, until one side or the other loses an election. Then the weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth begins in earnest as we have seen recently from the Clinton/Green Party crowd....

  • Howard Roark Nov 29, 10:11 p.m.
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    Hmm.. I never mentioned her name before your comment "Interesting. That could be a quote from Saul Alinsky, Hillary Clinton's extreme left-wing mentor. If you read Alinsky's book, Rules For Radicals, you will find the exact same thinking."

    Oops. Fail on the mic drop. Good night Jacob!

  • Jacob Young Nov 29, 10:04 p.m.
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    Ooops. One more thing. You are the one that brought up Hillary.

    Now, good night.

  • Jacob Young Nov 29, 10:03 p.m.
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    Well, then all I have to say is facts are stubborn things. Have a good night.

  • Howard Roark Nov 29, 10:01 p.m.
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    And quit trying to make this about Hillary. She won't be in the Whitehouse. Her career, is likely over as an office holding politician. Trump's just getting warmed up.

    The sooner you and those like you stop deflecting to Hillary and pay attention to the Constitutional assault Trump is laying foundation for, the sooner we can address the real and present threat to this nation's principles the founders worked so hard to enshrine...

    Unless perhaps, you agree with the chipping away of 1st amendment rights? What others would you like to see go?

  • Howard Roark Nov 29, 9:53 p.m.
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    I don't support Hillary. Being anti-Trump doesn't mean I back her or her beliefs. She was a top student headed to one of the best law schools in the country. In my opinion, one doesn't get there by "being young and impressionable."

    There are plenty lining up to demonize her based stretching a relationship to "mentoring." I just don't buy it. And no, in my opinion, the evidence is far from overwhelming.

  • Jacob Young Nov 29, 9:40 p.m.
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    So, are you really going to go down that little dirt road dead end of using that comment to deny that Alinsky wasn't Clinton's mentor. Really?
    The evidence is overwhelming and indisputable that he was and that Alinksy shaped Ms. Clinton's political philosophy at at time when she was young and impressionable.

  • Howard Roark Nov 29, 9:37 p.m.
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    Burning a flag or any expression of free speech can mean anything they want it to mean. You don't have to understand or agree with it.

    And those laws protect you as well. However, I'm not the one threatening the 1st amendment, Buster. Where does my opinion threaten one of your rights?

  • Howard Roark Nov 29, 9:34 p.m.
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    "His offer of a place in the new Institute was tempting," Clinton writes at the end of her thesis, "but after spending a year trying to make sense out of his inconsistency, I need three years of legal rigor."

    -Boston Globe interview, 2007