When Carlos E. Moore became a part-time municipal judge in Clarksdale, Mississippi, his first order of business was to remove the state flag from his courtroom.

The banner, adopted in 1894 and retained by Mississippi voters in a 2001 referendum, features the Confederate battle flag in its upper left corner and has been a continuing source of controversy, especially for African-Americans such as Moore.

“That flag – I do not believe it stands for justice,” the 40-year-old lawyer said in an interview last week. “I did not want it standing behind me as I tried to administer justice.”

In fact, Moore would like to eliminate the flag altogether. He has ignored death threats and asked the Supreme Court to intervene in what so far has been an unsuccessful federal lawsuit claiming the flag promotes white supremacy and violates the equal-protection rights of black Mississippians.

It seems it would be a substantial lift to ask the Supreme Court to tell a state it cannot fly the flag it favors. Even Moore’s lawyer, Philadelphia attorney Michael T. Scott, acknowledges there is no reason to think the court is eager to join the debate over what should be done about the nation’s memorials to the Confederate States of America.

The state of Mississippi did not bother to file a response to Moore’s Supreme Court petition. But the court last month told the state it wanted to know more, and to file a brief.


“So at least somebody at the Supreme Court does not think it is frivolous,” Moore said.

Moore’s petition to the court says the “message in Mississippi’s flag has always been one of racial hostility and insult.” It encourages violence, Moore alleges, and sends a “message to African-American citizens of Mississippi that they are second-class citizens.”

It seemed he had caught a break when his lawsuit was randomly assigned to U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves.

Reeves, nominated by President Obama, is only the second African-American federal judge in Mississippi and already has made a name for himself. He struck down the state’s law forbidding same-sex couples to marry, one of several rulings around the country that preceded the Supreme Court’s decision in 2015 that such prohibitions violate the Constitution.

Devoting about half of his 32-page decision to what he called “historical context,” Reeves dismissed the idea that the Confederate battle flag celebrates heritage, not hate, as supporters often declare.

“It should go without saying that the emblem has been used time and time again in the Deep South, especially in Mississippi, to express opposition to racial equality,” Reeves wrote.


Still, Reeves wrote, Moore must lose. To bring a federal lawsuit, a plaintiff must show an actual or imminent injury, specific and concrete to that person.

“Moore needs to identify that part of the Constitution which guarantees a legal right to be free from anxiety at state displays of historical racism,” Reeves wrote. “There is none.”

Scott, a corporate lawyer who normally represents pharmaceutical companies but had been looking to be involved in a case involving government endorsement of the Confederate flag, offered Moore help at the appellate level.

Moore acknowledges that the best way to accomplish his goal would be for Mississippi’s elected officials to change the flag. But Mississippi remains the only state to incorporate the battle flag in its emblem, and Moore said legislative efforts to change it have foundered.

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