An Open Letter to Donald Trump:
Today is the first time I have read any of your words and thought to myself, “I really need to help that guy.” In particular, I’m speaking to the phenomenal ignorance you displayed with this tweet:
Mr. Trump, I’d like to introduce you to two concepts key to our Republic: The Supreme Court of the United States and the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Now, I don’t mean to toot my own horn, but I’ve spent some serious time with these stalwarts of our great nation. In fact, in law school, I received a coveted A+ in First Amendment Law. I fancy myself a bit of a First Amendment nerd, if you will. So believe me, sir, when I say I can offer help in your time of ignorance.
In law school, our professors used to instruct us to “explain the law as if you were talking to your grandmother.” My grandmother, a proud southern woman from Alabama who never completed the 8th grade, was worlds smarter than you (“bigly smarter,” you might say). So, Mr. Trump, I will dumb it down for you even a bit further than that.
You may be surprised (and dismayed) to know that you are not the first person to suggest punishment for the act of burning our nation’s flag. Indeed, there were laws on the books all over America criminalizing such conduct up until 1989. It was that year, sir, that your idea took a tumble, constitutionally speaking.
In 1989, the Supreme Court (Google them if you’re not familiar) decided a case called Texas v. Johnson. In that case, Mr. Johnson was convicted of a Texas law that criminalized the burning of the American flag. He had admittedly done so in 1984, at a large protest rally outside of the Republican National Convention in Dallas. His act was in response to Ronald Reagan’s re-nomination as the Republican candidate for President of the United States. (You remember Reagan … he was the last President/TV star we elected).
Mr. Johnson (apparently a YUUUGE hippie) was protesting Reagan’s nuclear proliferation program. He burned the flag at the steps of the convention, to varying cries of jeers and cheers. The police arrested Mr. Johnson, and only Mr. Johnson, for violating the state’s flag desecration statute and for breaching the peace.
Mr. Johnson appealed his conviction and, by 1989, the case made its way to SCOTUS. Donald (may I call you Donald?), I would invite you to go read this case for yourself (See Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397 (1989).). Perhaps you could have one of your daughters summarize it for you. No matter, just familiarize yourself with it. For in this one case, our Supreme Court gave a stunning recitation of First Amendment jurisprudence (forgive me for the multi-syllabic words). Here is but a smattering of what the Court, led by Justice Brennan, had to say:
“We do not consecrate the flag by punishing its desecration, for in doing so we dilute the freedom that this cherished emblem represents.” Wow. Think about that for a minute. No, Donald, really … think. I’ll translate: “We do not honor the flag by punishing people who burn it because the flag is a symbol of our freedom of speech.” Whew! What a concept! But wait, there’s more…
The Court also recognized that as far back as 1943, Justice Robert Jackson had written for the majority: “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.” Again, I’ll translate because I know you lack patience and focus: If there is any central concept to our Constitution, it is that no politician (not even you) can dictate what our citizens believe with respect to politics, religion, etc., NOR can any politician force the people to state their shared belief with said dictator, er, politician. You see, Donald, we get to agree to disagree, even with you.
Finally Donald, in all due respect (and I truly, truly beg of you to consider how much respect you deserve), the Court in Texas v. Johnson reminded us that in prior First Amendment decisions, SCOTUS recognized that “a function of free speech under our system of government is to invite dispute. It may indeed best serve its high purpose when it induces a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions as they are, or even stirs people to anger.”
You have stirred me to anger, Donald. I will not rest until you are out of office. I will serve the highest purpose of the First Amendment and shout your ignorance and ill-preparedness from every rooftop.
Hope this helps,
All 64 million of us that didn’t vote for you.
P.S. The Texas v. Johnson Court ultimately decided that laws such as the one you proposed via TWEET, are unconstitutional. Maybe tomorrow night you’ll come up with something better.
Copyright 2016, Jennifer Anderson, All Rights Reserved