Five days after the murders of nine people in a historically black church in Charleston, the Confederate flag—a controversial symbol of southern separatism—is still flying high on the grounds of the statehouse in Columbia, South Carolina.
But that may be about to change. In the midst of a heated controversy over the Confederate flag’s racial legacy, Gov. Nikki Haley is reportedly preparing on Monday to propose removing the flag from the legislature’s grounds. And both South Carolina U.S. Senators Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott will reportedly join her in that call, according to CNN and a reporter from the Charleston Post and Courier.
The pathway for actually removing the flag is a thorny one, however, and would require real legislative will.
The Confederate flag’s place near the statehouse is enshrined in state law. In 2000, under pressure from the NAACP and business interests in the state, legislation was passed requiring the Confederate flag be taken off the South Carolina statehouse and placed at the Confederate Soldier Monument, near where the legislature meets. The flag must fly within 10 feet of the monument and be illuminated at night. Even its height is mandated in the law: it has to fly 30 feet up the flagpole.
The law would be difficult to change. The law stipulates that two-thirds of both houses must vote to remove the flag from the statehouse grounds, a prospect that seems an uphill battle considering some of the adamant opposition in the past to moving it. There’s popular support to keep the flag in place: as of November, 61% of South Carolinians said the flag should continue to fly where it is, according to a Winthrop poll.
Timing is tricky, too. With the state’s legislative session ending, a bill to remove the flag from state grounds may have to wait until December before it’s introduced. By then, much of the urgency to remove the flag may have passed.
But there may be an option to remove it immediately: the legislature could slip a bill into the current budget bill. Budget bills tend to pass in South Carolina by a two-thirds majority, meaning a motion to remove the flag would have a much better chance of passing as part of budget negotiations.
And a simple majority may be enough. The Democratic congressman from South Carolina, James Clyburn said Saturday that state legislators could remove the flag with a majority.
Pressure is growing to remove the flag. Republican national leaders like Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush have joined calls for the flag to be removed, along with Charleston’s mayor and local faith leaders — and some 500,000 have now signed a MoveOn.org petition to remove the flag. All that could put an extra push on any remaining, resistant state lawmakers.