• June 2, 2017
    Guest Post

    by LaJuana Davis, Professor of Law, Samford University Cumberland School of Law

    Four mothers of Mississippi schoolchildren filed a federal civil rights lawsuit last week charging the state has failed to provide for public education under the requirements of an 1870 law that set conditions of the state’s readmission to the Union following the Civil War. The suit’s plaintiffs, represented by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), have asked the court to void amendments to the state’s education article enacted after Reconstruction and restore education rights guaranteed under the 1868 constitution. Specifically, the suit claims that the state violated the Congressional Act of 1870 that conditioned Mississippi’s readmission to the Union on the state agreeing to never deprive its citizens of “school rights and privileges” secured by the 1868 state constitution. However, the complaint alleges, subsequent amendments to those school guarantees have resulted in a minimalist education clause that simply allows the legislature discretion to provide for whatever public school education that the legislature sees fit.

    The suit’s lead defendant, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, responded in a statement that the suit was simply a fundraising attempt by SPLC “on the backs of Mississippi taxpayers.” While Gov. Bryant may be irritated by the second challenge to Mississippi’s education scheme brought by SPLC in a year, Mississippi has had far fewer education adequacy lawsuits than most states, largely due to the minimal standard of education that its state constitution requires.

    Because Mississippi’s education clause requires no particular standard of education to be provided, the plaintiffs claim that some schoolchildren are learning in overcrowded classes   taught by inexperienced teachers and that those children have access to fewer educational resources and opportunities than students in other school districts. Most of the inequalities are being shouldered by majority-Black school districts, which may be affecting their students’ academic achievement.

  • July 1, 2016
    Guest Post

    by Harvey L. Fiser, Associate Professor Business Law,  Millsaps College

    As the celebrations of gay pride month came to a close and LGBT Americans herald the major advances in the court of public opinion and honor the anniversaries of the Windsor and Obergefell decisions, Mississippians were facing the prospect of waking up on July 1 with another attack on LGBT rights, HB 1523 – arguably the most comprehensive and blatantly discriminatory “religious freedom” bill any state has yet to pass.  Rather than following the advice of Indiana University Maurer School of Law Professor Steve Sanders  and taking time to celebrate the role these pioneering cases had in elevating “gays and lesbians to a place of constitutional dignity,” Mississippians waited for news on whether a federal court would stop this newest state sanctioned discrimination.    

    In response to the Supreme Court’s rulings finding that gays and lesbians have equal dignity in marriage, Mississippi’s legislature, Lieutenant Governor and Governor went further than any state has gone before – putting into law their own personal religious doctrines. On April 5, 2016, House Bill 1523 was signed into law over the protest of many companies, civil rights organizations and a major public outcry.  The bill purports to protect numerous public and private actions based wholly or partially on three, and only three, religious beliefs – that “(a) Marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman; (b) Sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage; and (c) Male (man) or female (woman) refer to an individual’s immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth.”

    This bill has been described as “narrower and broader” than any religious freedom act to date. Narrower in that it names specific religious beliefs that are protected and broader because it applies to both religious and secular businesses and organizations. According to testimony by Douglas NeJaime, professor of law at UCLA and faculty director of the Williams Institute, after Windsor, in the 2015 legislative session, there were more than 50 LGBT related religious accommodation bills introduced. In 2016, after Obergefell, there were over 100 introduced – HB 1523 being one of two enacted that year. According to Professor NeJaime, HB 1523 was based on model legislation drafted by the Alliance Defending Freedom, an organization “of the Christian right with the express purpose of seeing Christian principles enacted into law” and was passed in direct response to Obergefell.

  • May 11, 2015
    One Mississippi, Two Mississippi
    Methodists, Murder, and the Struggle for Racial Justice in Neshoba County
    Carol V.R. George

    Carol V.R. George is research professor of history at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. Her new book, One Mississippi, Two Mississippi: Methodists, Murder, and the Struggle for Racial Justice in Neshoba County, will be released from Oxford University Press in May 2015.

    On June 21, 1964, civil rights activist Andrew Goodman sent a postcard to his parents announcing his safe arrival in Meridian, Mississippi: “This is a wonderful town… The people in this city are wonderful and our reception was very good.”  Little more than twenty-four hours later Goodman was dead. Along with his two colleagues, James Chaney and Mickey Schwerner, Goodman was shot on a dark wilderness road by a group of local Ku Klux Klan members.

    Forty-one years later, in June 2005, Edgar Ray Killen was named the architect of the conspiracy that killed these civil rights workers. This delay of over four decades to bring a measure of justice to this case—to the families of the victims as well as to those who had supported the plan to enfranchise black voters. It was powerful testimony about the nature of historical amnesia.

    Once the Voting Rights Act of 1965 provided blacks the ballot, Americans generally—not just Mississippians—readjusted their moral compass to focus on issues other than those that once motivated movement activists. All those years, Edgar Ray Killen walked the streets of Neshoba County, Mississippi, confident that the surrounding white community would never bring charges against him, because the case had gone cold, because he was growing old, because it would resurrect bad memories, but also because at some level many believed his crime was not that horrific. Goodman and Schwerner were outsiders; Chaney, too, though he was a black resident of Meridian; and they had come into Neshoba County uninvited, with plans to disrupt the way of life most white Southerners held dear. Some whispered that “it was good they were gone,” and for Killen and his supporters, that sounded like an endorsement of what he had done.

  • October 26, 2011

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Making life impossible for others is sometimes just not enough. There’s a desire among some zealots to also make it miserable.

    For example, the right to an abortion is a privacy right protected by the Constitution. But a number of states this year have bowed to the pressure of special interest groups, many of them Religious Right outfits, to enact laws restricting the ability of women to obtain abortions. But, as reported by The New York Times, a group called Personhood USA is trumpeting measures that would give legal rights to embryos that would effectively brand “abortion and some forms of birth control as murder.”

    In Mississippi, as the newspaper notes, it is already nearly impossible for a woman to obtain an abortion. And because of the push by Personhood USA, Mississippians will vote in November on a proposed constitutional amendment providing an embryo the same rights as a human.  

    Personhood USA’s website reveals that its ballot initiative drive is invasive – it’s apparently being pushed in “all 50 states.” The group’s website also reveals this is yet another Christian Right effort to limit other people’s rights. (Many of the efforts to defeat marriage quality are driven by Religious Right activists.) Personhood USA states on its About Us, page, that it is “working to respect the God-given right to life by recognizing all human beings as persons who are ‘created in the image of God’ from the beginning of their biological development, without exceptions.”

    Personhood USA, moreover, “desires to glorify Jesus Christ in a way that creates a culture of life so that all innocent human lives are protected by love and by law.”

    Civil liberties groups are not knocking the free speech or religious liberty rights of Personhood USA, but many are attacking its effort to circumvent Supreme Court opinions that have upheld the right to abortion.

    Nancy Northrup, head of the Center for Reproductive Rights, told the newspaper, “This is the most extreme in a field of extreme anti-abortion measures that have been before the states this year.”

    In an interview with ACSblog, earlier this year, the ACLU’s Louise Melling noted the troubling string of state efforts to further restrict abortion, citing as one of the most egregious a North Carolina law that required physicians to encourage pregnant women seeking an abortion to view ultrasound images of their fetuses. (Yesterday, U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagle issued a preliminary injunction of that portion of the law. The law was enacted over the opposition of the state Gov. Beverly Perdue, who called it an extreme measure that interfered with the doctor-patient relationship, The Associated Press reported.)   

    Former U.S. Solicitor General Walter Dellinger (pictured), during this year’s ACS National Convention, also took a shot at state laws requiring doctors to try and influence a woman’s decision to have an abortion.

    Dellinger said, “We hear the talks about government intrusions into health care – that this represents an extraordinary step about liberty. And I just cannot, any longer, refrain from making the observation that it is really ironic and disturbing to hear that liberty lecture come from people talking about [a] government takeover of medical care, many of whom would legislate the imposition upon women of unnecessary waiting periods, government scripted lectures, compulsory sonogram viewings, and government mandated unsafe medical procedures.”