first thing to remember is this: Even though you are covering a
1989 Supreme Court case, this is not the court of 1989. The
participants will make new decisions and will deliberate differently.
As members of the media, you must cover this case as it unfolds
in your classroom.
will be giving your reports in in-depth TV-style news formats. For
a complete report, you might want to have a news anchor, a reporter,
a commentator and/or an expert on First Amendment issues.
have two main responsibilities: news coverage before the moot court
hearing and news coverage after the Supreme Court decision.
have an important role to play in the moot hearing. You must report
an emotionally charged case. You must inform the public of the issues
involved, as well as of the specifics of Johnson’s action.
duty is to be accurate. Tell the whole story. Give the public a
sense of why the story is important at this time, in this place.
Don’t let your news coverage be influenced by your personal beliefs
about flag-burning, You must give balanced and fair coverage.
News coverage before
the moot hearing
the moot hearing is held, you will prepare a news broadcast explaining
that an important case is to be argued before the Supreme Court.
Include an explanation of the mood of the country in 1984 and the
issues that resulted in protest demonstrations at the Republican
National Convention. Reflect different points of view in interviews
and commentary. Those who play the role of commentators should express
informed, personal points of view.
sensationalism. Let the honest passion of every side be expressed,
but do not design your coverage to entertain or inflame; your duty
is to inform.
- In reporting
the action of Johnson, do you show the image of the American flag
burning? No matter how insightful and in-depth your presentation
of the First Amendment issues, will viewers remember only this
symbol of America being burned? You must decide.
must write a summary of the question presented in Texas v. Johnson.
Ask them to provide you a copy. Use this to focus your research
covering the Supreme Court must be informed on constitutional issues.
You will need to understand:
of speech — protected speech, unprotected speech and symbolic
that were precedents to Texas v. Johnson
- The right
to “petition the government for a redress of grievances”
of flag protection
in this lesson can help you to be an informed member of the news
instructor will assign the time allowed for this broadcast. Make
sure your script uses only the allotted time.
News coverage after
the Supreme Court decision
deadline will be the day the Court’s decision is announced. (You
will not have much time; you must be ready to report the final vote
and what it means to most Americans.) To prepare for such immediate
reporting, think beforehand about what you might say if the
decision is for the petitioners and what you might say if the decision
is for the respondent.
your coverage of the Supreme Court decision, you should explain
the case, report the decision and analyze its importance. The commentators
and/or First Amendment experts should explain the impact of the
majority and minority opinions.
- It will
help you to understand Texas v. Johnson. Real Audio of
the oral argument is available at OYEZ.
the justices can decide differently than those of the 1989 Supreme
Court. What cases after 1989 might influence their decision? What
actions of Congress and the states might influence them?
- Do economic
and social conditions affect Supreme Court decisions? Do you
think the Supreme Court decision would have been different if
American forces had been involved in combat at the time it was
How do the media respond when the Supreme Court releases a decision?
A recent case, Boy
Scouts of America v. James Dale (2000) might provide
a good example, since it deals with an emotionally charged issue
about which people have strong personal beliefs related to a constitutional
issue. The issues before the court were whether the Boy Scouts of
America has a right to exclude homosexuals as troop leaders and
members, and whether the Boy Scouts of America is an organization
communicating a unified message that should be protected by the
Justice Rehnquist, in delivering the opinion of the court, wrote
“The Boy Scouts is a private, not-for-profit organization engaged
in instilling its system of values in young people. The Boy Scouts
asserts that homosexual conduct is inconsistent with the values
it seeks to instill. Respondent is James Dale, a former Eagle Scout
whose adult membership in the Boy Scouts was revoked when the Boy
Scouts learned that he is an avowed homosexual and gay rights activist.
The New Jersey Supreme Court held that New Jersey’s public accommodations
law requires that the Boy Scouts admit Dale. This case presents
the question whether applying New Jersey’s public accommodations
law in this way violates the Boy Scouts’ First Amendment right of
expressive association. We hold that it does.”
reporter on the Boy Scouts of America case might have used
for perspective and information to include in news coverage. For
your timeline, use Background of Texas
April 26, 2000, before the decision was handed down, Tony Mauro,
a Supreme Court reporter, wrote a news analysis titled “High
court seems to lean toward Boy Scouts in dispute over exclusion
of gays”. Was Mauro correct in his speculation?
June 28, The Associated Press released “Supreme
Court: Boy Scouts can exclude gay leaders”.