Date: May 5, 2006
Byline: Laurie Kellman, AP
Proposal to protect U.S. flag advances
WASHINGTON — A Senate panel on Thursday advanced a proposed constitutional amendment to ban flag desecration, a measure with little chance of congressional passage but potential political impact in an election year.
The measure was approved on a 6-3 vote of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on the Constitution, led by Kansas Republican Sam Brownback.
The House already has passed the amendment. Just bringing up the measure scores points with conservative voters who are crucial to the Republicans' plans to keep control of the House and Senate in November.
But the amendment faces high procedural and constitutional hurdles.
The 58 Senate co-sponsors are nine short of the two-thirds majority required to send constitutional amendments to the states, where approval by three-fourths of the state legislatures is needed for ratification.
When the Senate last voted on a similar measure in 2000, 63 members voted in favor and 37 against, just four votes shy of the two-thirds majority needed. Brownback said he isn't sure whether enough lawmakers will support the measure this time.
The amendment reads: "The Congress shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States."
The Supreme Court in 1989 issued the first of two 5-4 decisions declaring that flag desecration amounts to free speech protected by the First Amendment. Free speech advocates say a constitutional prohibition on flag burning would be censorship.
"Make no mistake, we are talking here about modifying the Constitution of the United States to permit the government to criminalize conduct that, however misguided and wrong, is clearly expressive and sometimes undertaken as a form of political protest," said Sen. Russ Feingold, ranking Democrat on the panel.
But Brownback defended his push for passage, saying a prohibition against desecration of the flag "merely prohibits certain types of conduct, not a particular idea."
The flag measure is one of several constitutional amendments Republican leaders are advancing to energize conservative voters even though none of them is likely to clear the Senate. Others include outlawing abortion and banning same-sex marriage.
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