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Flag Desecration: A Case Study in the Roles of Categorization and Balancing in First Amendment Analysis

John Hart Ely
Harvard Law Review
Vol. 88, No. 7 (May, 1975), pp. 1482-1508
DOI: 10.2307/1340121
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1340121
Page Count: 27
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Flag Desecration: A Case Study in the Roles of Categorization and Balancing in First Amendment Analysis
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Abstract

Since 1969, the Supreme Court has three times reversed the convictions of persons who "desecrated" the American flag as a symbolic means of political protest. But each time the Court avoided a broad holding that flag desecration for symbolic purposes is constitutionally protected under the first amendment. In this Comment, Professor Ely describes a doctrinal framework for first amendment analysis originally developed by the Supreme Court of the late Warren era. This framework, he argues, not only provides a stable basis for judicial resolution of free expression questions generally, but also suggests both the immediate difficulty and the ultimate resolution of the flag desecration problem.

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