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Monday, March 22, 2010

The ACLU on Today's Hearing in Mississippi

Posted by on Mon, Mar 22, 2010 at 2:14 PM

Kristy Bennett is legal director for the ACLU of Mississippi. Bennett was in court today with Constance McMillen for a hearing before a federal judge. The ACLU was in court seeking an injunction that would force the Itawamba County School Board to un-cancel Itwamba Agricultural High School's prom. Itawamba County School Superintendent Teresa McNeece, Itwamba County School Board Chairman Roy Hood, and Itawamba Agricultural High School principal Trae Wiygul all took the stand today. The hearing was in federal court in Aberdeen, Mississippi, about an hour's drive from Fulton.

How'd it go?

We think that it went pretty well. The judge, obviously, is going to take some time to look over the cases before making a decision.

What did the school board argue today?

The defendants' main contention has been that Constance's actions caused a disruption, that her request to go to prom was a distraction to the learning environment, and that is why they had to cancel the prom. But none of the witneses the defense called bore that out. The main distraction they all mentioned were the emails and calls they received about this. Principal Wiygul said he had received 4000 emails, 90% supporting Constance, and Superintendent McNeece said she got a lot of calls from parents. But on cross examination they were all asked if they received any emails or calls before the district made their March 10 decision to cancel prom. They said, no, pretty much all the calls and emails came after they cancelled prom, not before.

What was the atmosphere like in the courtroom?

It was very sedate, some reporters in the audience, a couple of supporters there for Constance. Quite a few cameras outside, but they’re not allowed in the courtroom.

When do you expect a decision from the judge?

It could be as early as 5 PM today, or it will come tomorrow.

What's your case based on?

There is case law that says Constance has a right to attend prom with a same-sex date, Fricke v. Lynch back in 1980. It was a Rhode Island district court case. This is a 1st Amendment issue, a freedom-of-expressoin issue. By attending prom with a same-sex date, or in a tuxedo, Constance is making a statement about her sexual and political views. The main issue the judge is looking at now is whether he has the authority to issue an order to the school forcing them to host a prom. That’s the issue the judge has to grapple with.

People have been talking about cases during the Civil Rights era, when courts ordered cities in the South to integrate public swimming pools and cities closed them—destroyed them, filling them with dirt or concrete—rather than integrating them. Did you cite those cases during the hearing?

No, we didn't. The defense did. They cited cases where cities had closed pools and courts said back then that they didn’t have the authority to force the re-opening of pools. Courts had issued rulings that found a violation, that people’s rights had been violated, but they weren’t going to order the pools back open.

So the school board's lawyers went to court and compared the school board's actions to those of government officials that closed pools to block integration? They compared themselves racist segregationists in the 1960s?

Now that you say it, yeah, they did compare themselves with governments that were closing pools.

So what happens now?

What could happen is the judge could deny the injunction, but then we still move forward with the case and we ultimately have a trial on the merits. Even if the judge rules against us we can still get a decision at trial that Constance's rights were violated.

Superintendant McNeece said in court today that she assumed all students would be welcome at the private prom, the "Furniture Mart Prom." Is that true?

No, I don’t believe that all students will be welcome. I think that there’s some information out there that indicates that Constance won’t be welcome.

But if she’s invited she’ll go to the Furniture Mart Prom, she has said that she'll go.


Comments (26) RSS

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Baconcat 1
Nobody tell Loveschild, he'll flip his wig over this part:

So the school board's lawyers went to court and compared the school board's actions to those of government officials that closed pools to block integration? They compared themselves racist segregationists in the 1960s?

Now that you say it, yeah, they did compare themselves with governments that were closing pools.
Posted by Baconcat on March 22, 2010 at 2:17 PM · Report this
There it is, Fricke, as I posted in the comments a week ago. Hurray for my ego.
Posted by Nick on March 22, 2010 at 2:21 PM · Report this
balderdash 3

I was just about to paste-n-comment on the very same excerpt.

At this point I can't even guess what's going on in these people's heads. Are they completely oblivious to the implications of that comparison? Are they perfectly happy to be racists by proxy? ARE they racists as well as homophobes? Or are they regretting their decision but already in so deep that they don't feel like they can back out?

I don't know. This entire situation is just baffling to me. It's like - guys, we JUST did this, were you not paying attention? It's taken us a couple centuries to forget the Enlightenment. Don't tell me we're going to forget the entire civil rights movement in only a few decades.
Posted by balderdash on March 22, 2010 at 2:24 PM · Report this
Vince 4
You hear their bogus arguments every time gay people seek justice. It's bad for this, it's a distraction for that. But all they ever prove is that they're just a bunch of bigots.
Posted by Vince on March 22, 2010 at 2:30 PM · Report this
elenchos 5
They compared themselves racist segregationists in the 1960s

OK, before I was just kind of looking on these people with dismay at their ignorance and cruelty. But now, now, they make me sick.
Posted by elenchos on March 22, 2010 at 2:38 PM · Report this
beckysharp 6
@3 This may answer your questions:

"Mississippi School Holds First Interracial Prom" is the title, dated from June 11, 2008. One quote: "Some white parents wouldn't let their kids go, and some insisted on holding a private prom for their kids."

It is completely in keeping with local custom that segregationists hold their own Furniture Mart prom without the disruption of seeing folks who do not exactly resemble themselves, be they black or gay.
Posted by beckysharp on March 22, 2010 at 2:50 PM · Report this
@5 shameless bigotry... at least they're being consistent? Tell me again what Mississippi contributes to the union? Is it too late to let the south secede from the union now?
Posted by Faer on March 22, 2010 at 2:53 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 8
@7 - um, higher healthcare costs for America?

I hear Mississippi is great for that.
Posted by Will in Seattle on March 22, 2010 at 2:57 PM · Report this
Shini 9
@7: as a former resident, it does have some beautiful wild areas, a lovely beach, and an awesome Aquarium sadly hit by Katrina (though thankfully the Dolphins had been moved ahead of time so none of them came to harm).

The people? We can just fling most of them into the Gulf.
Posted by Shini on March 22, 2010 at 3:21 PM · Report this
Baconcat 10
@9: Flinging most them into the Gulf could function as a major national event. People from coast to coast would be brought together for this momentous occasion. They can charge $20 a person, $200 to operate the trebuchet.
Posted by Baconcat on March 22, 2010 at 3:24 PM · Report this
Mike in MO 11
So what they basically said was, "The racist courts wouldn't force the racists to re-open pools back then, so please don't force us to have a prom if it means letting in a filthy dyke now."

Posted by Mike in MO on March 22, 2010 at 3:31 PM · Report this
sepiolida 12
Yes, they're sick bastards.

But I have to point out that although they probably didn't like making that comparison very much either, it gave them an excellent precedent for their case, and it was necessary for them to state it given their objectives. They are also a public institution, and they can't refuse specific people, but they can close the program down. Legally.

Given that precedent I would, sadly, rule for them.
Posted by sepiolida on March 22, 2010 at 3:43 PM · Report this
Chris in Vancouver WA 13
"By attending prom with a same-sex date, or in a tuxedo, Constance is making a statement about her sexual and political views." Although the ACLU gal is correct, I sure wish it wasn't like this. I hope there comes a time where dating/being in love with/living with someone of the same sex was just...being with someone of the same sex, and not a political statement. Love should not be political.
Posted by Chris in Vancouver WA on March 22, 2010 at 3:49 PM · Report this
@7 Better to demote MS to a territory. That way, we still own them and can tax them, but they don't get to vote and can stop embarrassing the other states. Ha ha ha!

@9 I think the aquarium you're talking about is in New Orleans
Posted by bluefawx on March 22, 2010 at 4:20 PM · Report this
Purocuyu 15
if they close the prom, will they be allowed to have it again next year? Or can the courts say in effect, "you can choose to not have a prom, but we won't let you change your mind"
Posted by Purocuyu on March 22, 2010 at 4:47 PM · Report this
balderdash 16
You know, all this uproar is over the actions of one school board, not a referendum of the people of Mississippi.

I know how much fun it is to make jokes about disenfranchising people you've never met because you disagree with them about something, but I'm just as reluctant to tar the entire state with this sticky mess as I myself am reluctant to take any responsibility for Don McLeroy and his Christian Dominionist fuckhead minions on the Texas Board of Education.
Posted by balderdash on March 22, 2010 at 4:49 PM · Report this
Free Lunch 17
I love the phrase "Furniture Mart Prom."
Posted by Free Lunch on March 22, 2010 at 5:18 PM · Report this
Southern Gentleman 18
Thank you, Balderdash. I'm not from Mississippi myself but I know that the school board, and even the people who've turned on Ms. McMillen as though she's responsible for all this, don't represent all the people of that town--or that state. This stopped me in my tracks, though:

The defense...cited cases where cities had closed pools and courts said back then that they didn’t have the authority to force the re-opening of pools.

Are they so historically ignorant, or so determined to win at all costs that they would cite segregationists in their defense? I've heard some hateful things, but if the school board members unanimously approve of this line of defense it makes me ashamed. It makes me think that I haven't done enough to stand up to prejudiced people.
Posted by Southern Gentleman on March 22, 2010 at 5:27 PM · Report this
MythicFox 19
@10 -- I'm pretty sure flinging them into the gulf counts as polluting it with toxic waste.
Posted by MythicFox on March 22, 2010 at 6:10 PM · Report this
I think we should put all the dead people in the ocean. It would put back in some biomass and help offset all the stuff humans pull out. We could even throw, on occasion, a few live ones in. As Dirty Harry said. 'There's nothing wrong with a little shooting, as long as the RIGHT(wing?) people get shot.'
Posted by spunky on March 22, 2010 at 7:08 PM · Report this
venomlash 21
@20: Too much nutrients going into the ocean in the form of farm runoff already, causing algal blooms and fucking up ecosystems. Human debris would not help the situation.
Posted by venomlash on March 22, 2010 at 7:54 PM · Report this
Vampireseal 22
@9--By aquarium do you mean Gulfport's Marineland? My mom took me there in the 90s, and it wasn't anything special. I was told it had been large prior to Hurricane Camille, but when it was rebuilt it was made into something much smaller. I wasn't that impressed by it, though kissing a sea lion was fun. When Katrina hit, the dolphins weren't evacuated, but they got loose and survived. They were recovered, but I kind of wish they had been allowed to live free, if they were capable of it.

And "Furniture Mart Prom"? Seriously? God, I'm so glad I don't live in Mississippi any more. I was born there, and still have relatives there, but I would never want to live there.

My mother said the worst tip she ever got as a teen working at Sonic burgers, was a card from the KKK. That's MS. for you. Granted not all of the people there are like that, but bigotry still runs strong in some areas.
Posted by Vampireseal on March 22, 2010 at 8:22 PM · Report this
The Max 23
If you're ever confused about the whole gay discrimination thing, it really helps to replace 'gay' with 'black'. Even to the point of: you don't have to be black. There are therapies. Just look at Michael Jackson! You can get your skin bleached, hair straightened, a little discreet facial surgery and you can pass yourself off as A-Rab.
Posted by The Max on March 22, 2010 at 9:45 PM · Report this
white people, ::shakes head::
Posted by missiv on March 23, 2010 at 1:56 AM · Report this
I saw your post and liked it so much and i am so impressed to read all this. Thanks for providing this.
Posted by sexdate on March 23, 2010 at 7:02 AM · Report this
Gosh, now I don't feel so guilty about that "burn some crosses for an encore" comment I left on the petition.
Posted by hinder on March 23, 2010 at 9:38 AM · Report this

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