A judge for the US District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri [official website] declared a state statute banning the burning of the American and Missourian flags unconstitutional [opinion, PDF] on Wednesday. Judge Carol Jackson heard a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] against the city of Cape Girardeau, Missouri after a resident was cited with Flag Desecration in accordance with a Missouri statute banning the practice that has been on the books since 1980. The ACLU hailed the result in a public statement [text] saying:
A law directed at the communicative nature of conduct must, like a law directed at speech itself, be justified by the substantial showing of need that the First Amendment requires. ... Here the State does not, and likely could not, articulate an interest that would justify restricting expression."The court's decision permanently enjoins the state from enforcing the flag burning statute in the future.
Though the statute has never been removed from the state's code, it had not been enforced since 1989 when the US Supreme Court ruled in Texas v Johnson [opinion] that flag burning was protected under the First Amendment. Since that landmark decision, the issue of flag burning has been a contentious legal issue which has received a large amount of legislative attention. In 1995, 2000, and 2006 the US Senate has voted on amending [JURIST report] the Constitution to ban flag burning. The closest these efforts came to fruition was in 2006 where the measure failed by one vote [JURIST report].