JACKSON, Miss. – A federal judge said Tuesday that the Confederate emblem on the flag is “anti-American” because it represents those who fought to leave the United States.
But U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves is not yet saying whether he will fully consider a lawsuit that seeks to eliminate the flag as a state symbol.
Reeves heard more than three hours of arguments about motions in the lawsuit that Carlos Moore, an African-American attorney from Grenada, Mississippi, filed against the state. Moore is asking Reeves to declare the flag an unconstitutional relic of slavery.
Moore argued that under the U.S. Supreme Court decision last summer that effectively legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, a majority of justices found the Constitution protects a fundamental right of dignity. Moore argued the state flag violates his dignity and that of other African-Americans.
Reeves – who is also African-American – said he is considering two questions as he decides whether to give more thorough consideration to Moore’s lawsuit or to dismiss it.
One question is whether Moore has legal standing to sue the state, including whether Moore can prove he has been harmed because of the flag. The other question is whether flag design is an issue that can be decided by a court.
Reeves asked attorneys dozens of questions on both points Tuesday.
An assistant state attorney general, Doug Miracle, argued flag design is a political question that should be decided by the Legislature.
“The issue is not one of whether the legislative branch will act,” Miracle said. “The issue is whether it is capable and it is better suited.”
Mississippi has used the same flag since 1894, and its upper left corner has the Confederate battle emblem – a red field topped by a blue X dotted with 13 white starts. Voters chose to keep the banner in a 2001 referendum, and it’s the last state flag in the nation to prominently feature the emblem.
The public display of Confederate symbols has come under sharp debate since last summer, when nine black worshippers were massacred at a church in Charleston, South Carolina. The man charged in the slayings had the Confederate battle flag in photos of him published online.
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Moore filed his lawsuit in February, days after legislative leaders declined to have the state House and Senate debate bills that would have either removed the Confederate emblem from the flag or punished public entities that refuse to fly it. Several local governments and some universities have taken down the flag since last summer. Republican Gov. Phil Bryant has said he supports the results of the 2001 vote but if the flag is to be changed, it should be done by a statewide vote.
Reeves didn’t say when he will rule on the arguments he heard Tuesday, but he noted they took place on the anniversary of the first shots of the Civil War being fired in 1861 at Fort Sumter, South Carolina.
“We’re still arguing about a flag in 2016 and arguing about a flag that is anti-American,” Reeves said. He said the Confederate battle flag was one symbol of those who fought to secede from the United States.
The judge also said the battle emblem is a symbol of the Confederacy, “which is anathema to anybody who lives within the 21st century.”