A black Mississippi citizen is taking his case against the state's Confederate-themed flag to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In papers filed Wednesday, attorneys for Carlos Moore said lower courts were wrong to reject his argument that the flag is a symbol of white supremacy that harms him and his young daughter by violating the Constitution's guarantee of equal protection to all citizens.
His attorneys wrote that under the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' ruling against Moore, "a city could adopt 'White Supremacy Forever' as its official motto; or a county could incorporate an image of white hooded figures and a noose hanging from a tree into its county seal; or a state could incorporate a Nazi swastika, as an endorsement of Aryan/white supremacy, in its state flag."
Mississippi's is the last state flag to feature the Confederate battle emblem. Critics say the symbol is racist. Supporters say it represents history.
Mississippi has used the flag since 1894, displaying its red field and tilted blue cross dotted with 13 white stars in the upper left corner. Voters kept it in a 2001 election.
However, several cities and towns and all eight of the state's public universities have stopped flying the flag amid concerns that it is offensive in a state where 38 percent of the population is black. Many took action after the June 2015 massacre of nine black worshippers at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, by an avowed white supremacist who posed with the Confederate battle flag in photos posted online.
The fresh scrutiny has extended to other Old South symbols on public display; New Orleans recently removed statues of Confederate officers and a monument to white supremacy, and other cities are considering similar demotions.
The lawsuit Moore filed in February 2016 says the Mississippi flag is "state-sanctioned hate speech," and seeks to have it declared an unconstitutional relic of slavery.
U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves dismissed it in September without ruling on the merits, saying Moore lacked legal standing to sue because he failed to show the emblem caused an identifiable legal injury.
But despite ruling against Moore, Reeves devoted nine pages of his decision to historical context, noting the racial terror intended to maintain segregation and white supremacy in the Deep South in the years leading up to Mississippi's adoption of the flag with the Confederate emblem.
Reeves specifically rejected an argument some flag supporters make outside the courtroom, that there is no connection between slavery and the Confederate battle emblem. The judge cited Mississippi's 1861 secession declaration, which said: "'Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery — the greatest material interest of the world.'"
Moore, himself an attorney, is now asking the Supreme Court to send the case back to Reeves' federal courtroom for a full trial on the merits of his arguments. Ultimately, Moore wants the Confederate symbol removed from the flag.
"While acknowledging that the Establishment Clause prohibits a state from expressing the view that one religion is superior to, or preferred over, others, the court of appeals reached the remarkable and unwarranted conclusion that the Equal Protection Clause does not similarly prohibit a state from expressing the view that one race is superior to, or preferred over, another," wrote Michael Scott and Kristen Ashe, who represent Moore.
It will be October, at earliest, before the Supreme Court will say whether it will take the case. The Mississippi Attorney General's office did not immediately respond Wednesday to a request for comment.
Republican Gov. Phil Bryant has said if the flag design is to be reconsidered, it should be done in another statewide election. Legislators filed several bills in 2016 and this year, to either change the flag or financially punish universities that refuse to fly it. All failed because leaders said they couldn't reach consensus.