U.S. Supreme Court asks Mississippi to defend Confederate symbol on flag

By David Pendered

The same week Georgia unveiled a statue of Martin Luther King Jr., the U.S. Supreme Court requested the governor of Mississippi to defend the Confederate battle emblem on his state’s flag. Calls to lynch anyone trying to remove Confederate symbols have been issued by a Mississippi lawmaker and other state officials, according to a petition asking the court to consider a lawsuit involving the flag symbol.

mississippi flag

The U.S Supreme Court may hear a case that contends the Confederate battle emblem must be removed from the Mississippi state flag, seen here in front of the Governor’s Mansion. Credit: AP via npr.org

The court hasn’t agreed to hear the case. The fact that it is seeking additional information suggests justices have some interest in the matter. The petition was distributed to justices on July 26 for consideration in their Sept. 25 opening conference, court records show.

At issue is a federal lawsuit filed on behalf of a Mississippi lawyer and his 6-year-old daughter.

Carlos Moore, an African American and descendant of slaves, contends the flag is unconstitutional because it violates his rights to equal protection. The flag violates his daughter’s rights to equal protection because the state mandates her to pledge allegiance to the flag in the following oath:

  • “I salute the flag of Mississippi and the sovereign state for which it stands with pride in her history and achievements and with confidence in her future under the guidance of Almighty God.”
Carlos Moore

Carlos Moore

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi ruled that neither Moore nor his daughter had standing to bring the lawsuit. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, in New Orleans, agreed with the ruling by the district court.

Moore’s lawyers filed a petition June 28 asking the Supreme Court to hear the case.

Mississippi Gov. Dewey Bryant’s lawyers on July 10 filed papers to waive Bryant’s right to respond to the petition. Supreme Court justices did not accept Bryant’s response.

Supreme Court Clerk Scott Harris sent a letter to Bryant’s lawyer on Aug. 29 requesting the governor to respond:

  • “Although your office has waived the right to file a response to the petition for a writ of certiorari in the above case, the Court nevertheless has directed this office to request that a response be filed.”

Bryant’s deadline to respond is Sept. 28.

Friends of the court briefs have been filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center and Members of the Congressional Black Caucus, with support of other organizations. These files, too, were distributed to the justices, court records show.

Mississippi’s state flag is the last in the nation to retain a symbol of the Confederacy.

karl oliver, facebook

Facebook posting by Miss. state Rep. Karl Oliver. Credit: twitter.com

Moore is unabashed in presenting his thoughts about the Mississippi flag. Moore is quoted in a story on blackenterprise.com:

  • “I despise the official state flag of Mississippi, which bears the Confederate battle emblem, and everything it stands for: white supremacy, slavery, [and the] lynching, rape, and murder of my ancestors. …
  • “I believe the current state flag, with that symbol of white supremacy, violates my 14thamendment right to equal protection or equal dignity under the law. I am not anyone’s second-class citizen, and I don’t appreciate my state implying [just that] with the current configuration of the Mississippi flag.”

Moore has received anonymous death threats since he filed his lawsuit in federal court, according to the petition. The petition also notes the virulent remarks on Facebook by Miss. state Rep. Karl Oliver. Oliver posted on May 21 in response to the removal in New Orleans of statues honoring Confederate leaders. The post observed:

Karl Oliver

Miss. state Rep. Karl Oliver

“The destruction of these monuments, erected in the loving memory of our family and fellow Southern Americans, is both heinous and horrific. If the, and I use this term loosely, ‘leadership’ of Louisiana wishes to, in a Nazi-ish fashion burn books or destroy historical monuments of OUR HISTORY, they should be LYNCHED” Let it be known, I will do all in my power to prevent this from happening in our state.”

Oliver removed the remark. But not before others commented on it, ensuring its longevity.

The Jackson Free Press reported the message had drawn “likes” from two other Republican lawmakers – John Read and Doug McLeod.

Oliver, 54, represents a district that includes the hamlet where Emmett Till was kidnapped, mutilated and killed during a visit from his home in Chicago to relatives in 1955, according to an editorial on nytimes.com. Till was 14 at the time.

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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