[UPDATE: I’m pleased to report, with thanks to commenter alkali that these bills were introduced through a Massachusetts quirk that allows any citizen to submit a bill for the legislature to consider. That they have been introduced is not a sign that any legislator has endorsed them. For more, see this post.]
Bill Raftery (Gavel to Gavel) reports:
Many states have requirements that U.S. and state flags be used in courthouses and/or courtrooms. Several Massachusetts bills, however, would in effect void any proceeding that did not include such flags.
Chapter 220, Section 1 of the Massachusetts General Laws provides “The flag of the United States and the flag of the commonwealth shall be displayed in every court of justice of the commonwealth while court is in session. The flags shall be of suitable dimensions.”
The matter has actually been litigated involving a case where a courtroom’s flag was borrowed by another court and was returned to the courtroom before the morning session was over. On appeal, the party sought a mistrial, which was denied. (Zabin v. Picciotto, 2008 Mass. App. LEXIS 1135).
HB 1325 and SB 643 of 2011 would both declare “Failure to adhere to the provisions of this section [i.e. display the flags] shall constitute a violation of due process.” The bills are identical to ones filed in the 2009/2010 session (HB 1475 and SB 1562).
The 2011 bills are currently pending the Joint Committee on the Judiciary.
Go to the post itself for links to the bills, which strike me as an awful idea. I agree that having flags in courtrooms is a good idea, and that symbolism is generally important — but let’s have a sense of perspective here. You’re going to throw out the results of an entire trial (civil or criminal), and require the judge, the jurors, the witnesses, and the parties to redo all their efforts just because the courtroom was missing a flag? Seriously?
By the way, if you’re interested in state legislation affecting courts, you should definitely check out Gavel to Gavel (run by the National Center for State Courts). I read it every day, via its RSS feed.