Mississippi Flag Offends More Than Just African-Americans, Federal Judge Says

The Mississippi state flag.

The Mississippi state flag.

A federal judge made quite the statement Thursday when he declined to rule the Mississippi state flag and its controversial Confederate battle emblem unconstitutional.

Mississippi attorney Carlos Moore lost his battle to have the flag removed late last week when U.S. District Court Judge Carlton W. Reeves dismissed his case. Though the judge refused to declare the state symbol unconstitutional, he did issue a provocative opinion on the controversial emblem and the history behind Mississippi’s state flag.

“To millions of people, particularly African-Americans, the Confederate battle emblem is a symbol of Old Mississippi — the Mississippi of slavery, lynchings, pain and white supremacy,” Reeves, who is Black, wrote in an opinion Thursday. “The emblem offends more than just African-Americans, [and] it is difficult to imagine how a symbol borne of the South’s intention to maintain slavery can unite Mississippians in the 21st century.”

The judge didn’t clarify who else the emblem might offend, but made his disdain for the flag crystal clear. Critics of the “stars and bars” emblem have long spoken out against its ties to racism and slavery. But new efforts to remove the Confederate symbol and others like it came after a white supremacist shot and killed nine parishioners at a historically Black church in Charleston, South Carolina last year.

Despite his denunciation, Reeves said he was forced to dismiss Moore’s case because the attorney didn’t have the “standing” or legal right to be in court, CNN.com reported. He also added that Moore failed to show the “cognizable legal injury” required to bring the case.

However, the judge said he’s open to hearing another case on the offensive flag and charged that “the people themselves” have the power to change it.

“While he dismissed my lawsuit, he definitely left the door open and seemed to be receptive to others challenging the constitutionality of the state flag in the federal court, or to the voters themselves,” Moore said in an interview.

In April of this year, thousands of Mississippians voted to keep the controversial flag. ABC News reports that voters had two choices: either retain the flag with the “stars and bars” emblem or adopt a new flag with 20 white stars on a blue square. The new emblem would symbolize Mississippi’s role as the 20th state.

Attorney Greg Stewart, who led the push to preserve the original flag, was pleased with the outcome. In his victory, Stewart tried to downplay the reactions of those who were offended by the flag, deeming it “just a piece of cloth that flies on a stick.”

Advocates for replacing the flag and Jackson, Mississippi’s chapter of the NAACP have vowed to keep fighting despite their defeat.

“It’s not over,” NAACP member Deborah Denard told ABC News. “We’re not going away.”

According to CNN.com, Moore is expected to file an appeal with the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals later this week. The attorney’s case has since caught the attention of Philadelphia-based lawyer Michael T. Scott.

“I think the judge did a remarkable job of exploring and laying out the historic context of which the flag arose, the way the flag has been used for a more than a century and laying out why it is wrong to have a state incorporate that emblem into its official state flag,” Scott said. “However, the judge interpreted ‘standing’ in a way that is not consistent with Supreme Court precedent.”

In his suit, Moore asserted that the flag was “tantamount to hateful government speech that both has a discriminatory intent and disparate impact and violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.” He even took a few jabs at Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, CNN.com reports.

Several new bills regarding the flag were introduced in January 2016, but none of them made it past the committees.

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