Federal Judge Denounces Confederate Battle Flag

Earlier today a Federal judge dismissed a lawsuit that sought to have the Confederate battle emblem on the Mississippi flag declared an unconstitutional relic of slavery. According to U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves the plaintiff was unable to show that the flag had caused a “cognizable legal injury.” The Confederate Heritage folks will certainly applaud the decision, but they probably shouldn’t get too excited about the outcome.

The judge may have found the plaintiff’s argument to be unconvincing, but that did not prevent him from speaking out on the history and meaning of the battle flag itself.

First, a history lesson in form of a reference to Mississippi’s Declaration of Secession: “‘Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery — the greatest material interest of the world.'”

He went on to say: “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.”

On the legacy of the flag: “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.”

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.

The judge clearly believes that a future case could demonstrate such an injury, but with each passing day more and more Mississippians appear to be aligning themselves with his hope that such a case will be unnecessary.

13 comments… add one
  • Stan Sep 9, 2016

    Good for that judge. Allow me to offer a suggestion on legal harm: my beautiful black college student has to walk past several confederate flags on her way to and from class every day. She most definitely feels targeted by white supremacists and unsafe in the presence of so many of these flags. When she visits home, the drive includes passing by even more confederate flags displayed on homes along the way.

    This is at a northern university, by the way.

    Do white people seriously believe that black students feel totally safe on universities in the presence of confederate flags?

    Do white Mississippians seriously think their black brothers and sisters don’t feel they are at heightened risk in the presence of those flags?

    I am really asking.

    I believe there’s a legal argument to be made here based on the belief of risk. Several states have ‘stand your ground’ laws that permit a person to shoot and even kill if they believe they are in danger. Terrible law but let’s run with it for a minute. OK, I am any black person in the USA. Don’t I have a very reasonable fear of white people displaying confederate flags? Do I get to shoot them if they confront me in any way? What if a truck with a confederate flag follows me in traffic. If I blaze away the law will protect me right?

  • bob carey Sep 9, 2016

    Not being a lawyer I do not know what would constitute a “cognizable legal injury”, but apparently whatever action that was mentioned in the suit did not qualify, it seems to me that Judge Reeves wanted to err on the side of caution. This is understandable, because the Judge seems to have strong feelings on the issue and he wanted to be sure that his legal opinion was separated from his personnel opinion otherwise he would be subject to charges of being biased.
    I have no doubt that the Heritage types will consider this a victory and they will mention only the legal opinion and not the Judges’ true feelings on Confederate symbols.

    • Kevin Levin Sep 9, 2016

      Sure, but the heritage community can only do so if they ignore the broader trends in the state.

      • bob carey Sep 9, 2016

        Ignorance does not seem to be a problem with the heritage community.LOL
        Do you feel that the broader trends will have a significant impact on the majority of Mississippians that would lead to changing the flag? I certainly hope that they do, but I remain skeptical. Maybe this is my Yankee bias showing.

        • Kevin Levin Sep 9, 2016

          I tend to think that much of this is generational. I like to think that the views expressed in this editorial is what we will continue to see in Mississippi and elsewhere.

        • Andy Hall Sep 9, 2016

          “Do you feel that the broader trends will have a significant impact on the majority of Mississippians that would lead to changing the flag?”

          The standard line from people who want to retain the current flag, including Governor Bryant, is that there was already a pubic referendum in the issue, that voted strongly in favor of it, back in (IIRC) 2000 or 2001. Their position is, “the people have decided,” but as far as I know have not indicated any willingness to “let the people decide” in a new referendum today, in 2016. Between a quarter and a third of Mississippi voters in the first referendum are probably gone from the rolls now, through normal attrition, and obviously the demographics of Mississippi are shifting as well, as in other states. The long-term trends are probably not good for retaining the current flag very much longer.

          • Patrick Jennings Sep 12, 2016

            How often should such a referendum appear?

            • Kevin Levin Sep 12, 2016

              Isn’t that up to the people to decide?

              • Patrick Jennings Sep 12, 2016

                I would think so. I have no information if the government is trying to stop another referendum or not.

              • Kevin Levin Sep 12, 2016

                Neither do I, but I suspect that the pressure that is being exerted at colleges, universities, and municipalities across the state will lead to another referendum at some point in the not-too-distant future.

            • Andy Hall Sep 12, 2016

              I don’t believe there should be any set guide for that, but at the same time there ought to be a recognition that public perceptions change, and what “the people” thought 15 years ago isn’t necessarily what “the people” think now. The folks who are pointing back to that earlier referendum are doing so specifically to avoid having to deal with the issue today, and as far as I know are not especially eager to put it on the ballot now.

            • Ken Noe Sep 13, 2016

              Alabama voters defeated a state lottery bill in 1999. Various groups have tried to get it back on the ballot almost every year since, including just a few weeks ago. It never passes, but not because we already voted on it once. A lot of former opponents, including our governor, supported it this time, so it’s clearly going to get through at some point.

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