What's Next for SC's Confederate Flag

Gov. Nikki Haley can push the process along but can't force it to happen.

ByABC News
June 23, 2015, 11:34 AM

— -- Even though the highest-ranking politician in South Carolina has called for the Confederate flag to be removed from state Capitol grounds, it could still take months to remove, if at all.

The controversial flag’s ultimate fate lies in the hands of the state legislature, and it's unclear how and when lawmakers would vote, despite Gov. Nikki Haley’s preference to remove it sooner rather than later.

How Legislators Would Vote If It Were Held Today

The Post and Courier newspaper in Charleston reached out to all 170 members of the state House and Senate but fewer than half of the members in each of the respective bodies responded.

Of those who did, the paper reported, there was overwhelming support in the House for removing the flag by a 4-to-1 ratio. The daily newspaper did not disclose the outcome for the 19 of the 46 senators who responded. Either way, the sheer number of legislators who did not respond shows that the outcome could land nowhere near the preference of those House members who did respond.

"We haven’t had the discussion on it. I don’t think it’s right to have the discussion before we’ve had time to mourn for those who’ve lost their lives," Republican Rep. Todd Atwater told The Post and Courier. "This is a reactionary decision and I don’t make decisions that way."

When the Vote Will Be Scheduled

Another hurdle, beyond the vote itself, is getting lawmakers to the vote in the first place.

The legislature's session has formally ended for the year, but members are coming back today briefly to finish the budget.

PHOTO: Protesters hold signs in front of the Confederate flag during a rally to take down the flag at the South Carolina Statehouse, June 20, 2015, in Columbia, S.C.
Protesters hold signs in front of the Confederate flag during a rally to take down the flag at the South Carolina Statehouse, June 20, 2015, in Columbia, S.C.

Making any changes regarding the flag requires a two-thirds supermajority in both chambers under the terms of the 2000 deal that moved a square version of the flag from the top of the Statehouse dome to an area on the grounds that has a monument to Confederate soldiers, according to the Associated Press. Adding the flag to the legislative agenda will take two-thirds approval by both chambers.

How Could Gov. Haley Intervene

Haley said she has the power to call the assembly back to work "under extraordinary circumstances," suggesting that the flag debate would qualify.

"I have indicated to the House and Senate, if they do not take measures to ensure this debate takes place this summer, I will use that authority for the purpose of removing the flag from the statehouse grounds," she said Monday.

Even though she said "that will take place in the coming week after the regular session and the veto session have been completed," it still leaves the calendar open for the actual vote to take place anytime this summer.

"There will be a time for discussion and debate, but the time for action is coming soon," she said.

The Optics of the Vote Itself

The NAACP issued a statement today saying it is e concerned about a possible vote tally, and the group "expects nothing less than a unanimous vote."

"Simply calling for the flag’s removal is not enough," the group said in a statement. "While a toothless vote is legislatively necessary, we believe that a unanimous vote is morally required."

"If South Carolina refuses to take down the flag, the NAACP will only intensify its economic, political and moral pressure on the state to remove the same emblem of exclusion that the church shooter used as motivation for his crime."

The renewed debate over the issue comes in the wake of the shooting of nine people inside an African Methodist Episcopal church by a suspect who is believed to have posted a racist manifesto online before the attack last Wednesday.