Wednesday, April 20, 2016
From ballot initiatives to rallies, the Mississippi state flag has gained a lot of attention lately in-state and then nationally following the shootings in Charleston, S.C., a debate exacerbated by the revelation that Gov. Phil Bryant had declared April "Confederate Heritage Month" in the state, causing a national outcry.
The proper venue to change the state flag—or keep it the same—has not always been obvious, however.
Ballot initiatives to both change and keep the state flag the same are on file at the secretary of state's office. Bills on both sides of the Legislature died in committee this session. And now judicial involvement to change the state flag lies in the hands of U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves.
Is the Court the Proper Venue?
On April 12, Judge Reeves held a hearing in the Bryant v. Moore lawsuit, which Grenada-based attorney Carlos Moore brought against Bryant, claiming he has suffered personal injury from living and working under the Mississippi state flag.
Reeves was concerned with two main questions: Does Moore have standing, meaning he has suffered an injury because of the state flag and he needs redress because of it? And, does the state flag issue need to be resolved in court? Reeves questioned Moore and his attorneys as well as the lawyers representing Gov. Bryant from the Attorney General's office for over three hours last week.
Tameika Bennett, an attorney with Moore's law office, said that he had standing to bring the lawsuit because he has suffered personal injury in the form of anxiety, sleeplessness and an elevated heart rate because he has to see the state flag at work, going in and out of court buildings, and his guaranteed principle of dignity under the law.
Doug Miracle, an attorney from the attorney general's office, told Reeves that Moore did not have standing because his case did not prove discriminatory treatment because of the state flag.
Reeves asked Miracle in that case if anyone would have standing to bring a lawsuit to remove the state flag. "The flag in and of itself doesn't create discriminatory treatment," Miracle told Judge Reeves.
"If he (Moore) can't sue, is there any person or association who can?" Reeves asked.
"I don't believe so, your Honor," Miracle said.
Miracle said that while the state does not chastise what Moore's beliefs about the injuries the flag may have caused him, Moore has not demonstrated concrete evidence of discriminatory treatment.
"I have proper standing to bring the case and (prove) stigmatic injury; we feel as if we are second-class citizens because of the offensive emblem (Confederate symbol in canton of state flag)," Moore told the Jackson Free Press after the hearing.
Miracle and Reeves both agreed in the hearing that the flag is a symbol.
"When we see the flag what do we see? What do African Americans see? What do white people see?" Reeves said.
Miracle said that the flag as a symbol does not do anything on its own and while there might be people who misuse symbols, Moore needed to prove that he suffered discriminatory treatment under the flag.
Moore argues that the court is the proper venue for his case because he is claiming personal injury. Reeves will get to decide if Moore has standing and if the court is the proper venue to change the state flag.
'Heart Transplant' Needed
Reeves' court may be the only option to change the flag for the foreseeable future. All bills proposing to change or keep the state flag died in committee back in February. Some senators have attempted to keep the potential to change the state flag alive with a resolution to bring back Senate Bill 2147, which would create a commission to re-design the state flag.
On April 1, Sen. John Horhn, D-Jackson, held a press conference with House and Senate Democrats calling on the legislative leadership to suspend the rules and bring back the bill.
"What we need is a heart transplant and a change of heart in this state," Horhn said.
In that press conference, several lawmakers said they want the state flag to change by 2017 for the state's bicentennial as well as the 71st Annual Meeting of the Southern Legislative Conference, which will be held in Mississippi.
Sen. Sollie Norwood, D-Jackson, said that many people are not interested in coming to Mississippi if the current state flag is still flying.
"We've already been advised by some of our colleagues in other states that they're not interested in coming to Mississippi because Mississippi still flies a Confederate flag," Norwood said. "I think it would be a tragedy if we lose the opportunity for our colleagues to come to our state and celebrate with us as we've gone to their states and (celebrated) with them because of our refusal to take down this flag."
The Senate Rules Committee has not moved on the motion to bring back Senate Bill 2147.
Email state reporter Arielle Dreher at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @arielle_amara.
Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.
Sign in to comment
Or login with: