A long-running feud over the Confederate battle emblem on the Mississippi flag is moving onto a new legal battlefield.
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans is scheduled to hear arguments Tuesday over reviving a 2016 lawsuit filed by an African-American attorney, Carlos Moore. He contends the flag is “state-sanctioned hate speech.” In a state with a 38 percent black population, Moore says the flag sends an unconstitutional message that black residents, including his young daughter, are second-class citizens.
The flag has been used since 1894, causing division for generations. Opponents say it’s a reminder of slavery and segregation, while supporters say it represents history and heritage.
U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves dismissed Moore’s suit in September, saying Moore lacked legal standing to sue because he failed to show the emblem caused an identifiable legal injury. Moore wants the appeals court to order Reeves to hold a full trial on his arguments.
“To the extent Judge Reeves discussed the merits, he had some things to say which were very much in accord with the allegations Carlos made,” said Moore’s attorney, Mike Scott.
Republican Gov. Phil Bryant has said repeatedly that if the flag design is to be reconsidered, it should be done by the voters, not by lawmakers or the courts.
On behalf Bryant, state assistant attorneys general Douglas Miracle and Harold Pizzetta wrote in arguments to the appeals court: “The district court was correct that Moore fails to identify that part of the Constitution that guarantees a legal right to be free of anxiety.”
Mississippi’s state flag is the last in the nation to prominently feature the Confederate battle emblem — a red field topped by a blue X dotted with 13 white stars. In a 2001 referendum, voters chose to keep it.
Like other Confederate symbols, the Mississippi flag has come under increased scrutiny since the June 2015 killings of black worshippers in South Carolina. The white man convicted in 2016 in that case had posed with the Confederate battle flag in photos published online. Several cities and counties and seven of Mississippi’s eight public universities have stopped flying the state flag.
In dismissing Moore’s suit, Reeves, who is also African-American, picked apart arguments made outside the courtroom by many flag supporters who say Mississippi’s secession from the union before the Civil War had nothing to do with slavery.
Reeves quoted the state’s 1861 secession declaration, which said: “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery — the greatest material interest of the world.”
Then, the judge continued in his own words: “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.”