Metro Weekly

Plaintiffs challenging Mississippi “religious freedom” law ask for full 5th Circuit to rehear case

Three-judge panel previously ruled that the plaintiffs can't sue because they haven't yet been harmed by the law

John Minor Wisdom Courthouse, home of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals – Photo: Bobak Ha’Eri, via Wikimedia.

Lawyers representing the plaintiffs who sued to stop a Mississippi “religious freedom” law from taking effect have asked the full 5th Circuit to rehear their lawsuit after it was dismissed for lack of standing.

Mississippi civil rights attorney Rob McDuff, along with the Mississippi Center for Justice and Lambda Legal, filed a petition with the court asking for an en banc hearing of Barber v. Bryant, which seeks to overturn Mississippi’s HB 1523 on the grounds that it is unconstitutional.

HB 1523 was signed into law by Gov. Phil Bryant last year, but blocked from going into effect after U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves ruled that the law was discriminatory. Reeves ruled that the law violates both the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution by favoring a very specific set of religious and moral beliefs.

Under the law, individuals and businesses are allowed to refuse goods or services based on their opposition to a person’s homosexuality, transgender status, or moral decisions, including whether to engage in extramarital sex.

But two weeks ago, a three-judge panel on the circuit dismissed the lawsuit, saying the plaintiffs did not have standing because they attempted to challenge the law as concerned taxpayers, rather than as injured parties who would be adversely affected by the law should it be enforced. The 5th Circuit panel’s decision reversed Reeves’ injunction and allowed the law to take effect.

McDuff, speaking on behalf of his clients, vowed to continue fighting the law “as long as it takes.” He has previously left open the door to a possible Supreme Court challenge.

“The panel’s decision to reverse the district court ruling begs the question of who gets to challenge laws in court and when. LGBT Mississippians should not have to endure even more profound discrimination before they can ask the court for help,” Susan Sommer, the director of constitutional litigation at Lambda Legal, said in a statement.

“Mississippi’s HB 1523 is an extreme discrimination law dressed up in religious clothes,” Sommer continued. “The wave of anti-LGBT laws like it in state houses around the country, including North Carolina and Texas, comes in defiance of the Supreme Court’s ruling for marriage equality and hard-won rights for transgender people.

“The Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell, reaffirmed just last week in Pavan v. Smith, means that same-sex couples are entitled to full marriage rights, not the half-baked rights on offer under HB 1523.”

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com