Three weeks after nine parishioners were slain at a black church in Charleston, South Carolina’s Senate overwhelmingly gave final approval Tuesday to a bill to remove the Confederate battle flag from the Statehouse grounds.
The Senate’s 36-3 vote sends the issue to the state House of Representatives and marks a dramatic loss of support for honoring Confederate symbols in a state that fought on the side of slavery during the Civil War.
Sen. Daniel B. Verdin III, a Republican and one of the three “no” votes, told of his ancestors who fought in the Civil War.
If society didn't show “reverence and respect” for the symbols of their forebears, Verdin said on the Senate floor, “those who came after us might treat us the same way.”
Senate passage required three readings, with a final vote winning a two-thirds majority. The Senate approved the bill twice Monday.
“Obviously, we have done something momentous, very historic,” Democratic Sen. Gerald Malloy said after the third vote, according to a live stream of the proceedings.
Malloy said he had spent time with the wife of Democratic state Sen. Clementa Pinckney on a “daily basis” after a man who posed in photos with Confederate flags allegedly shot and killed Pinckney and eight others during Bible study.
A new grand jury indictment Tuesday added three attempted murder charges against suspected gunman Dylann Roof, 21, for two women and a girl who survived the June 17 attack.
Roof also faces nine counts of murder and a weapons charge in the slayings at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
“Words cannot describe the deep grief that his family has been suffering from,” Malloy said of Pinckney. “The Senate has responded, and Jennifer [Pinckney] has been our strength around us.”
The House is scheduled to take up the measure Wednesday. The House clerk’s office said the bill would require three separate votes. A two-thirds vote from that chamber’s 77 Republicans and 46 Democrats is required for final passage.
If approved by both chambers, the measure would go to Republican Gov. Nikki Haley, whose signature seems assured. She has already called for the flag’s removal.
According to a survey of lawmakers conducted by the Charleston Post and Courier newspaper, 83 members of the House said they would vote to remove the Confederate flag — one more than the 82 required for a supermajority.
Nine members of the House said they would oppose taking down the flag, and the rest were undecided or declined to state their positions.
Although the House is generally more resistant than the Senate about taking down the flag, there was unlikely to be a large swell of opposition to the bill, said David Woodard, Thurmond professor of political science at Clemson University in South Carolina.
When Haley stood alongside Republican U.S. Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott and other lawmakers last month to call for the flag’s removal, pro-flag Republicans were unable to get traction, Woodard said.
“The momentum now is so strong, I can't believe any large number will stand up” for keeping the flag, Woodard said.
By the time the House adjourned Tuesday afternoon, however, 26 amendments to the flag bill had been filed — 25 of them by the same legislator.
Republican Michael A. Pitts offers a range of proposals: removing all monuments and memorials from the Capitol complex, flying the battle flag on Confederate Memorial Day, even flying the U.S. flag atop the Statehouse dome upside down.
Most of his amendments have no co-sponsors. But more than 30 representatives have signed on to his amendment to replace the Confederate battle flag with the first South Carolina Volunteer Infantry Regiment flag.
A separate amendment, proposed by Republican Rick Quinn, would specify in more detail what should happen to the battle flag after it is removed from the Statehouse grounds.
Tyler Jones, political director of the South Carolina House Democratic Caucus, said the amendments were “just a way to waste time.” Legislators have 20 minutes to spend on each amendment, he said — 10 minutes for introduction and 10 minutes for debate — and the Democratic caucus will not vote for any of them.
“It looks like Republicans are just going to filibuster this thing with amendments,” he said.
Staffers were struggling to print enough copies of the amendments before Republicans and Democrats hold caucus meetings Wednesday morning to strategize before the 10 a.m. session, he said.
“It's definitely disappointing, and I would go so far as to say that it is shameful,” Jones said. “There's still some time for them to reconsider, and we hope they sleep on it. Any delay to passing this bill will only keep South Carolina in division.”
House Republican leaders did not respond to messages seeking comment.
The Confederate battle flag was originally installed to fly above the dome of the South Carolina Statehouse in 1961, during the civil rights movement. Many black Americans consider it an affront and a symbol of slavery.
In 2000, during a public campaign to remove the flag, lawmakers voted to take it off the dome and put it near the Confederate Soldiers Monument on the Statehouse grounds, where it remains. That legislation also set the two-thirds requirement for tampering with the flag’s position.
Times staff writer Pearce reported from Los Angeles and special correspondent Jarvie from Columbia, S.C.