Frank Sinatra wrote George H.W. Bush a letter about flag burning. Bush wrote back.

When Frank Sinatra Thanked George Bush for Trying to Outlaw Flag Burning

When Frank Sinatra Thanked George Bush for Trying to Outlaw Flag Burning

The Vault
Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights
Sept. 22 2014 9:04 AM

When Frank Sinatra Thanked George Bush for Trying to Outlaw Flag Burning

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After the Supreme Court ruled in 1989 that burning the American flag is protected by the First Amendment, President George H.W. Bush launched a campaign to overturn the decision through a constitutional amendment. The president received an immense amount of mail in response to his crusade, much of it supporting his push to outlaw flag burning. Among the supporters was one Frank Sinatra, who became a Republican in 1970 and had endorsed Bush’s 1988 presidential campaign.

1Sinatra
Letter, Francis Albert Sinatra to George Bush, June 29, 1989,ID# 050258, FG001-06, WHORM: Subject File, Bush Presidential Records, George Bush Presidential Library.

George Bush Presidential Library.

Ten days later, Bush responded with a handwritten note, thanking his friend for agreeing that “I am right on this one.”

2Sinatra
Letter, George Bush to Francis Albert Sinatra, July 7, 1989,ID# 050258, FG001-06, WHORM: Subject File, Bush Presidential Records, George Bush Presidential Library.

George Bush Presidential Library.

3Sinatra
Letter, George Bush to Francis Albert Sinatra, July 7, 1989,ID# 050258, FG001-06, WHORM: Subject File, Bush Presidential Records, George Bush Presidential Library.

George Bush Presidential Library.

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Ultimately, Congress, led by then-Sen. Joe Biden, passed a federal law—not a constitutional amendment—banning flag burning. The law was promptly struck down by the Supreme Court, and, despite periodic attempts, Congress has failed to muster the votes to enshrine a flag-burning ban in the Constitution. (During the most recent effort, Sen. Mitch McConnell cast the deciding vote—against the amendment.) Bush went on to appoint two Supreme Court justices with notably more expansive views on free speech than his own. That’s life.

Mark Joseph Stern is a writer for Slate. He covers the law and LGBTQ issues.