After President-elect Donald Trump distracted everyone over the weekend by claiming he’d won the popular vote (he didn’t), Trump engaged in yet another Twitter rant early Tuesday morning. The topic this time? Whether or not anyone, especially citizens of the United States of America, should be allowed to burn the nation’s flag as a sign of protest, and what kinds of punishment those who do it should face. Considering the number of anti-Trump protests at which American flags have been burned (and Trump’s apparent “love” for the country’s chief symbol), his latest outburst isn’t all that surprising.
What is surprising, however, is the severity of the president-elect’s suggested punishments for those who burn the American flag. (Not to mention his lack of knowledge regarding relevant court cases heard by the Supreme Court of the United States.) “Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag,” Trump tweeted. “If they do, there must be consequences – perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!”
As CNN points out, all of Trump’s suggestions fly in the face of two pivotal 1980s SCOTUS decisions. The first, Texas v. Johnson, concerned an appeal by Gregory Johnson against the state of Texas, which had previously charged and convicted him of “desecration of a venerated object.” By a 5-4 ruling, the SCOTUS determined Johnson’s flag burning was “symbolic speech” and thereby protected by the First Amendment. A year later, the SCOTUS ruled 7-3 in United States v. Eichman that the Flag Protection Act of 1989 — which Congress passed in response to Texas v. Johnson — was unconstitutional.