The first thing to remember is this: Even though you are re-enacting a 1989 Supreme Court case, you are not the court of 1989. You must make your own reasoned deliberation and decision.

In preparing to hear Texas v. Johnson, you should review all the information on this case and the cases that set precedents for it. Develop a list of questions you want to ask the attorneys. These questions might have to do with details of the case you do not understand. You might ask the attorneys to clarify some facts or to tell how previous cases relate to this one.

To get you started, here are a few of the issues the Supreme Court justices raised when this case was heard. Think about why these topics might be important in reaching your decision.

  • What is the importance of preserving a respected symbol of our country?
  • Can someone burn a copy of the Constitution?
  • Was the flag stolen?
  • Was the Texas law designed to prevent violence or to prevent a breach of the peace?

To develop additional questions, go to http://supct.law.cornell.edu/supct/ and click on “Questions presented in cases to be heard.” These are the most recent cases and issues confronting the Supreme Court. Use them as models.

You also should make sure you understand the First Amendment concept: “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech … .”

  • What speech does the First Amendment protect?
  • Does freedom of speech protect statements that are hateful, defiant and contemptuous?
  • Is this case an example of speech that is or is not protected by the First Amendment?
  • What is symbolic speech? How does the concept of symbolic speech apply to this case?

You should also understand the First Amendment concept expressed as the “… right of the people … to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

  • Was Gregory Lee Johnson exercising this right?

You might consider the concept of “fighting words.”
Can expression be prohibited if it involves action that may disturb the peace?
Can Texas bring criminal charges against Gregory Lee Johnson for the ideas he expressed?

To form questions and deliberate, you may use cases after 1989 as well as those cases that were precedents for Texas v. Johnson when it was first argued.     

You will find information on the cases in the library and online at http://law.findlaw.com, http://oyez.nwu.edu/, http://www.fedworld.gov/supcourt/index.htm, and at http://supct.law.cornell.edu/supct/.    

Remember that the Dallas district attorney is the petitioner and presents first. Johnson’s attorneys (respondents) present second. You can interrupt the attorneys with questions at any time.

You must select a chief justice from your group of nine. The chief justice should lead your discussion of the case after the presentations.

After the attorneys have concluded their arguments and you have asked your questions, you will deliberate in front of the class. After each justice has stated what he or she believes is the pertinent issue and convincing argument, the chief justice should determine the will of the court by asking for a show of hands. From the majority, select one person to present the majority opinion; from the minority, select one person to present the dissenting opinion. If there is a justice in the majority with a particularly different analysis of the issue, he or she may present a concurring opinion.