NEW ORLEANS (AP) — In the latest legal wrangling over one of Mississippi's most prominent symbols, a lawyer for a man who objects to the state's flag said Tuesday the Confederate-themed banner sends a message of "white supremacy."
The comments by Michael Scott came during a federal appeals court hearing on a long-running feud over the Confederate battle emblem on the Mississippi flag.
African-American attorney Carlos Moore, who is suing the state, contends the flag is "state-sanctioned hate speech." His 2016 lawsuit says it sends a message that black residents are second-class citizens.
"The message is one of white supremacy," Scott, who represents Moore, argued to the three-judge panel in a New Orleans courtroom.
A federal judge in Jackson dismissed Moore's complaint in September, saying Moore lacked legal standing to sue because he failed to show the emblem caused an identifiable legal injury.
But Moore has argued in court filings that he's often exposed to the state flag which causes him to suffer "physical and emotional injuries." As a lawyer who regularly goes into courthouses where the flag is flying, he says he faces a hostile work environment. He also says his 5-year-old African-American daughter is harmed by being exposed to the flag at her public school.
Mississippi's state flag is the last in the nation to prominently feature the Confederate battle emblem — a red field topped by a blue X dotted with 13 white stars. In a 2001 referendum, voters chose to keep it.
Like other Confederate symbols, the Mississippi flag has faced increased scrutiny since the June 2015 killings of black worshippers in South Carolina. The white man convicted in 2016 in that case had posed with the Confederate battle flag in photos published online. Several cities and counties and seven of Mississippi's eight public universities have stopped flying the state flag.
The hearing before the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals centered mostly on Moore's legal standing to pursue the case. Scott insisted Moore has standing, but attorneys for the state argued he doesn't. The district judge dismissed Moore's case without holding a trial on the arguments he makes. Moore wants the appeals court to order such a trial.
The judges Tuesday repeatedly pushed Moore's attorney on the issue of standing, asking him to cite case law to back up his position.
The lawyers and judges also sparred on what the flag means.
At one point when Scott argued that "flags are the embodiment of the society," Judge Rhesa Barksdale pushed back, asking whether California's flag — which features a grizzly bear — really embodies that state.
"It's a bear," the judge emphasized.
A lawyer for the state shied away from describing what Mississippi's flag is supposed to represent. When Judge James Graves asked about the flag's purpose, Assistant Attorney General Douglas T. Miracle said it "means different things to different people."
When pushed on whether it's supposed to represent Mississippi's people, Miracle said: "I cannot speak to what the flag is supposed to mean."
Judge Stephen Higginson pushed Moore's lawyer on why the state flag couldn't be changed through a political process, citing a decision in New Orleans to remove four Confederate-era monuments. Higginson was part of an appeals court decision Monday that allowed the city to move forward with the monuments' removal over objections from supporters who wanted to keep the monuments up.
Republican Gov. Phil Bryant has said repeatedly any reconsideration of the flag should be done by the voters, not lawmakers or the courts.
The appeals court judges gave no indication of when they will rule.
Follow Rebecca Santana on Twitter @ruskygal.