Flag-protection amendment fails by 1 vote
New York Times
Jun. 28, 2006 12:00 AM
WASHINGTON - A proposed constitutional amendment to allow Congress to prohibit desecration of the flag fell a single vote short of approval by the Senate on Tuesday, a squeaker that left unresolved a long-running debate over whether the flag is a unique national symbol deserving of special legal standing.
The 66-34 vote on the amendment was one vote short of the 67 required to send the amendment to the states for potential ratification as the 28th Amendment. It was the closest proponents of the initiative have come in four Senate votes since the Supreme Court first ruled in 1989 that flag burning was a protected form of free speech.
The opponents - 30 Democrats, three Republicans and an independent - asserted that the amendment would amount to tampering with the Bill of Rights in an effort to eliminate relatively rare incidents of burning the flag. They said it flew in the face of the very freedoms guaranteed by the symbolism of the flag.
Proponents of the amendment, which was backed by 52 Republicans and 14 Democrats, disputed the assertion that burning the flag was a form of speech. They said the amendment was simply an effort to reassert congressional authority after a misguided court ruling. They said it was particularly appropriate to act now when American troops are at risk.
The vote is likely to be an issue in the upcoming congressional elections and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who was the chief sponsor of the amendment, predicted the minority who opposed it would be held accountable by voters.
Eleven senators facing re-election this year opposed the amendment and several are facing potentially difficult races, including Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, a Republican, and Democrats Daniel Akaka of Hawaii, Robert Byrd of West Virginia, Maria Cantwell of Washington and Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut.
The House has routinely approved the flag amendment on bipartisan votes and did so last year. Had the Senate passed the amendment, it would have been likely to win ratification from the required 38 states since, supporters say, all states have endorsed the amendment in some form.
Although the amendment gained three votes since it was last considered in 2000, its future prospects are uncertain. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is in line to become the Republican leader in the next Congress and he opposes the initiative on free speech grounds. In addition, most analysts expect Republicans to lose Senate seats in the November election.