The Redundancy of State Orders for Half-Staff Flags: A Clarification for Governors

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When the President of the United States orders the American flag to be flown at half-staff, it serves as a directive for federal buildings and grounds across the nation. This article aims to clarify for state governors the redundancy of issuing separate orders for the same purpose.

Federal Authority and Nationwide Impact

The President’s authority to order the flag to half-staff is encompassing and is recognized across the United States of America. This directive automatically extends to all federal buildings, military facilities, and U.S. embassies worldwide, setting a precedent for national mourning or respect.


The authority for the President of the United States to order the American flag to half-staff comes from the Title 4 (what we commonly call the Flag Code), Chapter 1 of the United States Code covers the use and display of the flag and provides the President with the discretion to order the flag to be flown at half-staff as a mark of respect to the memory of certain deceased officials and individuals, as well as during certain national observances.

Understanding the Role of State Governors

The Governor’s role in flag protocols is crucial within their respective state. However, when the President issues a half-staff order, it universally applies and is inherently inclusive of all states and territories. Issuing a separate state directive under these circumstances becomes redundant.

Key Considerations for Governors

  • Avoiding Redundancy: Once the President has ordered flags to half-staff, it is understood that this includes all states and territories.
    • This is addressed in the US Flag Code that flags shall not fly higher than or to the right of the US Flag. Therefore, issuing a state-level order is unnecessary and may even cause confusion about the protocol. For more on flag display protocol, see also this article.
  • Unified National Response: Following the President’s directive without additional state orders promotes a unified national response.
  • Effective Communication: Rather than issuing a redundant order, focus on communicating the federal directive to your constituents. This ensures everyone is informed and understands the reason behind the flag being at half-staff.
  • Respect for Protocol: Respecting the established protocol underlines the solemnity and significance of the gesture of flying the flag at half-staff. It maintains the dignity and uniformity of this national symbol.
  • Efficient Governance: Streamlining the process by not duplicating orders frees up resources and time for other critical governance matters, especially during times of crisis or national mourning.


Governors have the authority to order the US and state flags to half-staff within their respective states and that is derived from a few areas.

Their role as the commander-in-chief for their State and National Guards, Title 4 USC, Public Law 110-41, and lastly, their respective state laws or gubernatorial proclamations. Each state has its own set of protocols and guidelines regarding the lowering of the flag to half-staff, often in line with federal guidelines but also with specific provisions for state-level officials, dignitaries, or events.

The Standards

  1. Ensure the American flag is quickly raised to full truck (the top) and then slowly brough down to half-staff (half-mast is a maritime term only).
  2. While a flag lower than full truck is considered half-staff, the vertical center of the pole and flag should match.
  3. No other flag should be beneath the American. It looks awkward, can create undue stress on the halyard, clasps, and pully, and the flag beneath could possibly brush up against a lower object.


For state governors, recognizing the comprehensive nature of the President’s directive to fly the flag at half-staff is crucial. Issuing a separate state order under these circumstances is not only redundant and a waste of resources, but can also detract from the unified national sentiment intended by the gesture. In such times, it is more effective to support and relay the federal directive, ensuring a cohesive and respectful national response.

Written by DeVaughn Simper, Resident Vexillologist for Colonial Flag

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