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 Case Study

Course outcome addressed in this Assignment:

PA205-1: Describe the difference between legislation and case law.


Read the Case Study, which discusses an incident in which an individual challenged his conviction for burning an American flag. Then answer the questions that follow.


  1. The case study references one state statute. Identify it and explain what it prohibits.
  2. Which branch of government (executive, judicial, or legislative) created the state statute?
  3. The passage above also discusses one court case. Who were the parties involved in the case?
  4. The case was heard by three lower courts before it reached the United States Supreme Court. List those three courts in order, beginning with the court that has the most authority and ending with the court that has the least amount of authority.
  5. Provide the citation for the United States Supreme Court’s decision in this case.
  6. What effect did the United States Supreme Court’s decision have on the Texas statute?
  7. Write 1-2 paragraphs explaining the difference between case law (like the court cases above) and statutory law (like the state statute above). Focus your discussion on how case law and statutes are created, the weight of their authority, and how they can be amended or changed.


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Submitting Your Work

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  1. Click the link that says “Submit an Assignment.”
  2. In the “Submit to Basket” menu, select Unit x: Assignment.
  3. In the “Comments” field, make sure to add at least the title of your paper.
  4. Click the “Add Attachments” button.
  5. Follow the steps listed to attach your Word document.

To view your graded work, come back to the Dropbox or go to the Gradebook after your instructor has evaluated it. Make sure that you save a copy of your submitted work.


PA205: Introduction to Legal Analysis and Writing Unit 1 Case Study

In 1984, the Republican Party met in Dallas, Texas for their national convention. President
Ronald Reagan, seeking a second term in office, was to be officially named the Republican
Party’s candidate for President. During the convention, opponents of Reagan’s policies
organized a political protest in Dallas, which attracted over 100 protestors. Among the
protestors was Gregory Lee Johnson.

As the demonstrators marched through the streets chanting slogans, another protester handed
Gregory Johnson an American flag that had been taken from a flagpole at one of their protest
locations. Upon reaching Dallas City Hall, Johnson doused the flag with kerosene and set it
ablaze. Johnson and his fellow demonstrators circled the burning flag and shouted anti-
American slogans. No one was injured or threatened with injury by Johnson’s act, but many who
witnessed it were deeply offended.

Dallas police officers arrested Johnson and charged him with violating section 42.09(a)(3) of the
Texas Penal Code, which prohibited the “desecration of a venerable object.” Johnson pleaded
not guilty in Dallas County Criminal Court, and after a trial was found guilty of violating the
statute. He was sentenced to one year in prison and fined $2,000. State v. Johnson, No. CCR
84-46013-J (Crim. Ct. No. 7, Dallas Cnty. Tex. Dec. 13, 1984).

Johnson appealed his case to the Texas Court of Appeals, Fifth District, claiming that the
statute under which he was convicted was unconstitutional. The Court of Appeals disagreed
with Johnson and affirmed his conviction. Johnson v. State, 706 S.W.2d 120 (Tex. App. – Dallas

Johnson then appealed his case to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, this highest court in
the state of Texas. The Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the lower court’s ruling, holding that
Johnson’s right to freedom of speech under the First Amendment of the United States
Constitution was violated by the statute. States cannot pass laws which take away freedoms
that are promised under the United States Constitution, and in passing section 42.09(a)(3), the
state had deprived Johnson of his constitutional right to express his views about the
government. Johnson v. State, 755 S.W.2d 92 (Tex. Crim. App. 1988).

Now it was the State of Texas’ turn to appeal. The state petitioned the United States Supreme
Court to hear the case, and the Court granted the request. After hearing oral arguments and
reading the parties’ appellate briefs, the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 vote, affirmed the decision of
the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397 (1989).

The Supreme Court held that Johnson’s burning of the flag was expressive conduct protected
by the First Amendment. Therefore, the state could not criminalize flag desecration in order to
preserve the flag as a symbol of national unity. It also held that the statute did not meet the
State’s goal of preventing breaches of the peace, because there was another Texas statute
which prohibited all breaches of the peace, not just those associated with flag desecration. The
Court ruled that the Texas statute was inconsistent with the First Amendment, and therefore the
Court struck down the statute. Id.