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Judge: No, You Can’t Sue To Remove The Confederate Battle Symbol From Mississippi’s Flag

A black federal judge in Mississippi ruled Thursday against an attempt to remove the Confederate battle emblem from the Mississippi state flag.

U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves ruled that the claim of Carlos Moore, the black attorney who filed the suit, that the flag was an unconstitutional relic of slavery, didn’t prove the emblem caused a “cognizable legal injury.” Moore had claimed flying the state flag violated the 13th and 14th Amendments and filed suit against Gov. Phil Bryant.

Reeves was clear that those supporters of the flag who claimed Mississippi’s secession from the union before the Civil War was not caused by slavery were not historically accurate, quoting Mississippi’s 1861 secession declaration, which read: “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery - the greatest material interest of the world.” He added, “To put it plainly, Mississippi was so devoted to the subjugation of African-Americans that it sought to form a new nation predicated upon white supremacy.”

Reeves acknowledged, “The emblem offends more than just African-Americans. Mississippians of all creeds and colors regard it as ‘one of the most repulsive symbols of the past.’ It is difficult to imagine how a symbol borne of the South’s intention to maintain slavery can unite Mississippians in the 21st century.”

But he utterly dismissed Moore’s case, as he ruled: “Moore’s arguments are phrased as constitutional claims, yet his allegations of physical injuries suggest that he is making an emotional distress tort claim. To succeed in constitutional litigation, however, Moore needs to identify that part of the Constitution which guarantees a legal right to be free from anxiety at State displays of historical racism. There is none.”

Reeves concluded, “The Confederate battle emblem has no place in shaping a New Mississippi, and is better left retired to history. For that change to happen through the judiciary, however, the Confederate battle emblem must have caused a cognizable legal injury. In this case no such injury has been articulated. Whether that could be shown in a future case, or whether ‘the people themselves’ will act to change the state flag, remains to be seen.”

"To succeed in constitutional litigation, however, Moore needs to identify that part of the Constitution which guarantees a legal right to be free from anxiety at State displays of historical racism."

Judge Carlton Reeves

The current Mississippi flag, created in 1894, has the Confederate battle emblem in the upper left corner. In 2001, the state’s citizens voted to reject an attempt to change it in 2001.

Since Dylan Roof, who posed with the Confederate battle flag, then later massacred black worshippers in South Carolina in 2015, the flag has been under assault. Mississippi cities, counties, and universities have banned the flying of the state flag.

 
 
 

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