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June 28, 2016 Off

Court Warns Mississippi Legislature on Efforts to Circumvent Marriage Equality

Yes­ter­day, a fed­eral court gave Mississippi’s leg­is­la­ture a stern warn­ing about its efforts to cir­cum­vent the U.S. Supreme Court’s mar­riage equal­ity rul­ing.  The warn­ing was made in the con­text of plain­tiffs to a marriage-equality law­suit ask­ing the U.S. Dis­trict Court for North­ern Mis­sis­sippi to reopen their case in a chal­lenge to HB 1523, the State’s so-called “Pro­tect­ing Free­dom of Con­science from Gov­ern­ment Dis­crim­i­na­tion Act,” which goes into effect on July 1st.

Seal_of_Mississippi_2014.svg

Shortly after the Supreme Court’s Oberge­fell deci­sion, the Dis­trict Court issued a per­ma­nent order mak­ing the marriage-equality rul­ing bind­ing on the “… State of Mis­sis­sippi and all of its agents, offi­cers, employ­ees, and subsidiaries….”

Ear­lier this year, how­ever, the State enacted HB 1523, which broadly allows Mis­sis­sip­pi­ans to deny goods or ser­vices to their fel­low cit­i­zens based on their own “reli­gious beliefs or moral con­vic­tions” that mar­riage is lim­ited to oppo­site sex cou­ples.  One HB 1523 pro­vi­sion empow­ers clerks and their sub­or­di­nates to refuse issuance of mar­riage licenses based on this reli­gious or moral view­point pro­vided that “… mar­riage is not impeded or delayed as a result of any recusal.”  But the statute con­tains no pro­tec­tions to safe­guard against imped­i­ments or delays.

The plain­tiffs rightly argue that HB 1523 con­flicts with the Dis­trict Court’s per­ma­nent order, and are insist­ing that it be revised to fully pro­tect their 14th Amend­ment marriage-equality rights.

In grant­ing the plain­tiffs’ request to reopen the case, the Court found that HB 1523 “… may in fact amend Mississippi’s mar­riage licens­ing regime in such a way as to con­flict with Oberge­fell.”  Fur­ther­more, it warned that State leg­is­la­ture that:

[T]he mar­riage license issue will not be adju­di­cated anew every leg­isla­tive ses­sion.  And the judi­ciary will remain vig­i­lant when­ever a named party to an injunc­tion is accused of cir­cum­vent­ing that injunc­tion, directly or indirectly.

The plain­tiffs’ request to the Court is part of a broader chal­lenge to the con­sti­tu­tion­al­ity of HB 1523, which con­tains other pro­vi­sions favor­ing par­tic­u­lar reli­gious or moral view­points, includ­ing lim­it­ing sex­ual rela­tions to opposite-sex mar­riage and bas­ing gen­der iden­tity strictly on bio­log­i­cal sex.   The law’s pref­er­ences are clearly incon­sis­tent with the First Amendment’s free speech and estab­lish­ment clauses.  Based on this court rul­ing, with its warn­ing empha­siz­ing judi­cial vig­i­lance, there is rea­son to believe that the dis­crim­i­na­tory HB 1523 will even­tu­ally be struck in its entirety.

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June 18, 2014 Off

Honoring The Memory Of Murdered Civil Rights Workers

June 21 marks the 50th anniver­sary of the mur­ders of three young civil rights work­ers who trav­elled to Mis­sis­sippi for “Free­dom Sum­mer,” to help African Amer­i­can res­i­dents under­stand their con­sti­tu­tional rights and reg­is­ter to vote.  Fac­ing deep insti­tu­tional racism, fewer than five per­cent of the 500,000 black adults in Mis­sis­sippi were then reg­is­tered to vote.  Michael “Mickey” Schw­erner, 24, James Chaney, 21, and Andrew Good­man, 20, knew they were risk­ing their lives for their cause. murdered-civil-rights-workers

On June 21, 1964, after they had inves­ti­gated the burn­ing of a black church, the three young men were reported miss­ing.    Forty-four days later, their bod­ies were found buried deep in a dam in Philadel­phia, Mis­sis­sippi.  The nation later learned that on their way back, the men’s car had been stopped for a pre­text traf­fic vio­la­tion and the three had been arrested and held for sev­eral hours.  On their release, they were fol­lowed and mur­dered by mem­bers of the Neshoba Coun­try Sheriff’s Depart­ment, Philadel­phia Police, and mem­bers of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK).

When Mis­sis­sippi pros­e­cu­tors refused to press mur­der charges, fed­eral author­i­ties, led by Assis­tant Attor­ney Gen­eral for Civil Rights John Doar, brought fed­eral crim­i­nal civil rights charges – with mixed results:  seven of the 18 defen­dants were con­victed, with sen­tences between three and ten years.  At the sen­tenc­ing in Decem­ber 1967, fed­eral judge William Harold Cox crudely explained, “They killed one nig­ger, one Jew, and a white man. I gave them all what I thought they deserved.”  In 1999, a new gen­er­a­tion of Mis­sis­sippi law enforce­ment offi­cials reopened pro­ceed­ings, and in 2005 the State of Mis­sis­sippi indicted the Klan leader who had led the group.  ADL wel­comed his conviction.

The mur­ders in Mis­sis­sippi in 1964 out­raged the nation, pro­vid­ing addi­tional momen­tum to pro­pel pas­sage of the com­pre­hen­sive Civil Rights Act later that sum­mer – and the Vot­ing Rights Act (VRA), one of the most impor­tant, effec­tive civil rights laws – the fol­low­ing year.

We have come a long way as a nation since 1964, but vig­i­lance is nec­es­sary to retain that hard-earned progress.  In 2013, unfor­tu­nately, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a crit­i­cal VRA pro­vi­sion in Shelby County v. Holder.  The League had urged the Court to uphold the Act in an ami­cus brief.  Instead, a nar­row Court major­ity elim­i­nated the for­mula to deter­mine which states must seek prior gov­ern­ment approval for vot­ing changes. The very day the deci­sion was handed down, a num­ber of states began enact­ing previously-blocked voter ID laws and redis­trict­ing mea­sures.

Now, fifty years later, the League is help­ing to lead a very large coali­tion work­ing to fight dis­crim­i­na­tion, pro­mote equal­ity, and pro­tect the same vot­ing rights for which Schw­er­mer, Good­man, and Chaney gave their lives. ADL is urg­ing broad sup­port  for the Vot­ing Rights Amend­ment Act of 2014 (VRAA) which would cre­ate a new for­mula for pre-clearing vot­ing rights changes.

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March 3, 2014 Off

The Arizona Effect

Josh Deinert

AP Photo/Matt York

Last week Ari­zona Gov­er­nor Jan Brewer vetoed the State’s now infa­mous “reli­gious free­dom” bill. 

The clear intent of the SB 1062 was to effec­tively allow per­sons and busi­nesses to dis­crim­i­nate against the State’s LGBT com­mu­nity by pro­vid­ing a pow­er­ful legal defense based on asser­tion of a “sin­cerely held reli­gious belief.” 

Due to its expan­sive nature, how­ever, the leg­is­la­tion would have broadly sanc­tioned religious-based dis­crim­i­na­tion whether the vic­tim was Jew­ish, Mus­lim, Protes­tant, Catholic, Mor­mon, Hindu or of no faith.   And the Anti-Defamation took a lead­er­ship role in defeat­ing this dis­crim­i­na­tory legislation.

Gov­er­nor Brewer ulti­mately vetoed SB 1062 under fierce pres­sure from the State’s civil rights and busi­ness communities.

But what hap­pens in Ari­zona does not stay in Ari­zona.  Prior to Gov­er­nor Brewer’s veto, at least twelve other states, includ­ing Geor­gia, Mis­sis­sippi, Ohio and Okla­homa, were actively con­sid­er­ing sim­i­lar leg­is­la­tion.  Due to the back­lash against SB 1062, how­ever, Geor­gia, Mis­sis­sippi, Ohio, and Okla­homa tabled their bills.  So the new talk­ing point in oppos­ing such leg­is­la­tion should be “fol­low the lead of the Ari­zona leg­is­la­ture at your peril.”

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