JACKSON • A New Albany legislator wants to criminalize flag burning in defiance of several U.S. Supreme Court rulings.
Sen. Kathy Chism, R-New Albany, has introduced a bill that would ban any burning of the U.S. flag other than for the disposal of a worn or soiled flag.
In a statement to the Daily Journal, Chism said she hopes the bill will ultimately lead the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn standing precedent that laws against flag burning are unconstitutional.
“Like most Mississippians, I love and respect the American flag,” Chism said. “Thousands of men and women, including my father and brother, have fought under that banner. And many have paid the ultimate sacrifice to preserve it.”
Chism’s bill largely duplicates current law. Mississippi statute bars the mutilation, defacement or defilement of the U.S. flag, the Mississippi state flag and the Confederate flag.
The current statute allows for a fine up to $1,000 and imprisonment up to 30 days. In addition to these penalties, Chism’s proposed law would require that flag burners be fined $500 or imprisoned for 30 days.
However, both the current law and Chism’s more targeted bill run afoul of court precedents.
In a 1989 decision, Texas v. Johnson, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 majority that burning or otherwise marring a flag is political speech that merits protection under the First Amendment. With this decision, a court majority that included stalwart conservative Antonin Scalia struck down laws against flag burning that were on the books at the time in 48 of 50 states.
Congress responded with a federal law that banned flag-burning, but the nation’s high court struck that law down in 1990, in United States v. Eichman.
Amendments to the U.S. Constitution that would prohibit flag burning have been proposed, but none have ever passed both chambers of Congress. In 2006, a proposed amendment fell one vote short in the Senate.
These court rulings mean that Chism’s legislation, Senate Bill 2012, could draw a lawsuit if passed. The state could seek to appeal any court rulings against the law to the U.S. Supreme Court in an effort to overturn past court rulings protecting flag burning.
SB 2012 has been double-referred, which means two different state Senate committees are required to approve the legislation before the full chamber can consider it. Leadership often double refers disfavored bills. The two committees that would have to vote in favor of SB 2012 are the Constitution Committee and the Judiciary B Committee.
A first-term Republican lawmaker, Chism sits on the Constitution Committee in the state Senate.
Taylor Vance contributed to this report.