In researching this question, I found this page from the Government Publishing Office, which states in 4 U.S.C. §10:

Any rule or custom pertaining to the display of the flag of the United States of America, set forth herein, may be altered, modified, or repealed, or additional rules with respect thereto may be prescribed, by the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the United States, whenever he deems it to be appropriate or desirable; and any such alteration or additional rule shall be set forth in a proclamation.

§1 describes the design of the flag, which I interpret as a rule or custom pertaining to the display of the flag.

I'm not a lawyer though. Can POTUS change the design of the US flag without an act of Congress?


§1 states what the design of the flag shall be (§2 mandates addition of stars when a new state is added). In essence, 4 USC 1-2 define what the flag is, and the rest of that chapter addresses what you can do with it. These are laws (passed by Congress), not rules or customs. That is, it's not a custom that the flag is 50 starts and 13 stripes, it's the law. POTUS cannot unilaterally change the law. (4 USC 3 also specifies punishments for certain kinds of flag abuse, and this too is outside the scope of that the president can do by declaration). 4 USC 5 in fact states that "The flag of the United States for the purpose of this chapter shall be defined according to sections 1 and 2 of this title", and that

The following codification of existing rules and customs pertaining to the display and use of the flag of the United States of America is established for the use of such civilians or civilian groups or organizations as may not be required to conform with regulations promulgated by one or more executive departments of the Government of the United States.

§§6-9 specify standard flag etiquette (violation of which incurs no legal punishment), and those are the rules that the president can rewrite.

  • 1
    4 USC 1-2 is not very specific about the design, it just says "thirteen horizontal stripes, alternate red and white; and the union of the flag shall be [fifty] stars, white in a blue field." Could the President modify the design within those parameters? Say, adopting eight-pointed stars, or making the white stripes wider than the red ones, or arranging the stars to spell out "USA". Aug 6 '21 at 1:33
  • 2
    @NateEldredge probably. Notably, there were at least six 13-star designs. There have been designs with six pointed stars instead of five-pointed. There have been designs with white outer stripes instead of red. There have been designs where the canton height is 6/13 the height of the flag instead of 7/13. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… -- the most recent flag down there to have multiple designs is the 38-star flag, used from 1877 to 1890.
    – phoog
    Aug 6 '21 at 3:28

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