In a required third vote, South Carolina’s state senators voted to remove the Confederate battle flag from its prominent place flying on the Statehouse grounds. The final tally was 36-3. The House will now take up the issue, perhaps as early as Wednesday.
In both the Senate and the House, a vote on removing the flag will require a two-thirds majority. The bill under consideration would move the flag to the Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum.
Tuesday’s vote was widely seen as a formality; the S.C. Senate had voted 37-3 to advance the bill after its second reading Monday, defeating several attempts to offer alternate plans — such as flying a different Confederate flag, or flying the battle flag only on Confederate Memorial Day.
South Carolina’s flying of the flag became a renewed focal point after the massacre of nine black church members in Charleston last month; the young white man who is accused of the crime had posted photographs of himself with the flag and other memorabilia that’s associated with white supremacist movements.
One of those killed at Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church was its senior pastor, Clementa Pinckney — who also served as a state senator.
Pinckney’s widow, Jennifer, was present for Tuesday’s vote. Shortly after the measure passed, she visited the Senate floor, prompting many members of the chamber to form a line to speak to her and share hugs and handshakes.
The bill that would take down the Confederate battle flag is expected to run into more opposition in the House, which has 124 members.
“House Majority Leader Bruce Bannister, R-Greenville, said lawmakers have several proposals to replace the flag with different banners,” The State newspaper reports, “but he did not know whether any of them had enough backing enough to pass.”
At a news conference held Tuesday morning, State House Democrats said they want a “clean bill” that doesn’t include an alternate flag, according to The State’s Cassie Cope.
The Democratic representatives said that around 50 House members support an alternate flag amendment. But they also noted that that figure falls short of a majority.
Gov. Nikki Haley, who launched a push to remove the controversial flag two weeks ago, praised Monday’s vote, saying the Senate “rose to this historic occasion, with a large majority of members from both parties coming together in the spirit of unity and healing.”
She urged the House to “act swiftly and follow the Senate’s lead.”
The South Carolina legislative process requires three readings of a bill before it can be fully approved, meaning that final votes on the flag issue could come as late as Friday.