The Senate killed a proposed constitutional amendment to protect the flag on Thursday - a move Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, immediately complained will doom the flag to continued burning and desecration.
The amendment died on a 51-48 vote - 15 short of the two-thirds needed for passage. Both Hatch and Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, voted for the amendment.Hatch, one of the Republicans who led the fight for the amendment, predicted the defeat will lead protesters to soon burn flags to test the constitutionality of a statute Congress passed earlier this month to protect the flag.
"I would be absolutely shocked if the Supreme Court upheld that law," Hatch said. "The only way it would uphold it without this amendment is if there were such a public outcry that justices would be afraid not to."
Public outcry about the Supreme Court's Texas vs. Johnson decision earlier this year, which said flag burning was a protected form of political communication, led President Bush to call for the amendment. But the outcry cooled over time, as did Congress' support for the amendment.
"But if there's another incidence because of this, people are going to be doggone mad," Hatch said.
Senate majority leader George Mitchell, D-Maine, said arguments that only a constitutional amendment could overcome the Supreme Court's flag-burning decision are "just plain wrong.
"We can best protect our flag by passing a law, as the Congress has already done," Mitchell said.