The 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.

You 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.

You have two main responsibilities: news coverage before the moot court hearing and news coverage after the Supreme Court decision.

You 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.

Your 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
Before 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.

Avoid 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.

Justices 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 and coverage.

Reporters covering the Supreme Court must be informed on constitutional issues. You will need to understand:

  • Freedom of speech — protected speech, unprotected speech and symbolic speech
  • Cases that were precedents to Texas v. Johnson
  • The right to “petition the government for a redress of grievances”
  • History of flag protection

The Resources provided in this lesson can help you to be an informed member of the news media.

Your 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
Your 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.

In 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.
  • Remember, 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 made?

Study models. 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 First Amendment.

Chief 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.”

A reporter on the Boy Scouts of America case might have used this timeline for perspective and information to include in news coverage. For your timeline, use Background of Texas v. Johnson.

On 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?

On June 28, The Associated Press released “Supreme Court: Boy Scouts can exclude gay leaders”.