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Clinton Opposes Flag Amendment

The Clinton administration, picking a fight over an issue ripe with patriotic symbolism, on Tuesday announced the president’s opposition to a constitutional amendment prohibiting desecration of the American flag.

In the administration’s first public comments on the proposed amendment, Assistant Attorney General Walter Dellinger warned that such a measure, which is expected to be taken up by both the House and Senate in coming weeks, would “create legislative power of uncertain dimension to override the First Amendment and other constitutional guarantees.”

Congress, Dellinger told a Senate Judiciary committee hearing, should resist the temptation to conduct “a first-time edit of the Bill of Rights in the absence of any meaningful evidence that the flag is in danger of losing its symbolic value.”

A leader of the American Legion, which is pressing for the so-called flag-burning amendment, professed disappointment and confusion at what he suggested is a reversal by President Clinton. William Detweiler, national commander of the American Legion, said that an early meeting of leaders of veterans groups with then-Gov. Bill Clinton had left all involved “firmly convinced” that Clinton would support a constitutional amendment on flag-desecration.

A House subcommittee already has drafted the constitutional amendment.

After expected approval by the full Judiciary Committee today, the House is slated to act on the measure on Flag Day, June 14. Advocates have gathered commitments in the House just short of the 290 votes needed for passage.

But while Clinton’s voice is certain to be an important one in the debate, the president has no direct power to thwart the measure: If passed by two-thirds majorities in the House and Senate, the proposed constitutional amendment - the third Congress has under consideration this year - would go directly to the states for ratification.