John Paul Stevens Quote: Where Have All the Flag Burners Gone?
Stevens’s Second World War experience also played a part in perhaps his most anomalous opinion as a Justice. In 1989, he dissented from the decision that protected the right to burn the American flag as a form of protest. 'The ideas of liberty and equality have been an irresistible force in motivating leaders like Patrick Henry, Susan B. Anthony, and Abraham Lincoln, schoolteachers like Nathan Hale and Booker T. Washington, the Philippine Scouts who fought at Bataan, and the soldiers who scaled the bluff at Omaha Beach,' he wrote in an unusually lyrical dissent. 'If those ideas are worth fighting for—and our history demonstrates that they are—it cannot be true that the flag that uniquely symbolizes their power is not itself worthy of protection.'
"'The funny thing about that case is, the only consequence of it—nobody burns flags anymore,' Stevens told me. 'It was an important symbolic form of protest at the time. But nobody does it anymore. As long as it’s legal, it’s not a big deal. You just don’t have flag burning.'”
--from Jeffrey Toobin's article "After Stevens" in the March 22nd issue of The New Yorker
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