Bryant still needs to take stance on flag

Published 12:01 am Sunday, October 1, 2017

This morning for the sake of accuracy, I must swallow a little crow. That’s OK. As my mother told me after I complained that my older brother was hitting me back after I hit him, “If you can dish it out, you’d better be ready to take it.”

Last week in this space I lamented that I wished Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant would stand up and officially take a position — pro or con — on the issue of the Mississippi state flag and its Confederate emblem.

I still feel that way.

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For many years, Bryant has dodged the issue simply stating either that the people of the state have already spoken on the matter — referencing the 2001 statewide flag referendum — or that the people of Mississippi should be the ones to decide. In doing so he sort of ignores his position as the head honcho of the state.

Last week’s column pointed to what I had hoped would be a pending, definitive and public stance from the state on the flag.

The U.S. Supreme Court had asked the state to respond to a lawsuit filed by Mississippi attorney Carlos Moore.

Finally, I thought, Gov. Bryant and the state would have to set out their position.

But as most things in life — and law — it wasn’t that simple.

In his lawsuit, Moore contends that by allowing the state’s public emblem to contain a symbol that has become synonymous with hate groups, the state creates a hostile work environment of sorts in courthouses where Moore works and where the state flag is flown.

A U.S. District Court and a U.S. Court of Appeals have already ruled against Moore’s case because the courts believed the plaintiff could show not real injury that the flag caused him and thus the federal judiciary does not have the jurisdiction to take up a matter.

Despite those setbacks, Moore’s attorneys appear to be throwing a “hail Mary” of sorts, asking the U.S. Supreme Court to consider whether or not the lower federal courts’ decision on the jurisdiction matter was sound.

I misinterpreted what the U.S. Supreme Court was asking, believing the high court sought the state to fully answer to the lawsuit. It doesn’t.

The court’s letter appears to simply seek a response on the question of jurisdiction and the plaintiff’s “standing” (or legal justification for filing the lawsuit).

While Bryant may not have to defend his position, as I first believed, I hope he will read the words of U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves who in his dismissal of Moore’s lawsuit wrote:

“To millions of people, particularly African-Americans, the Confederate battle emblem is a symbol of the Old Mississippi-the Mississippi of slavery, lynchings, pain, and white supremacy. As Justice Fred Banks noted, the Confederate battle emblem “takes no back seat to the Nazi Swastika” in its ability to provoke a visceral reaction.

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.

Since the Civil War, this nation has evolved and breathed new life into ‘We the People’ and ‘all men are created equal.’

Mississippi is known for its resistance to that evolution. Part of that resistance stems from electing demagogues and those with empty rhetoric and false courage. The result is a State increasingly isolated from the rest of the nation.

At times there is something noble in standing alone. This is not one of those times. 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.”

Well written. I hope the governor reads that and it changes his heart on the matter.
Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or