The Liberty Justice Center Challenges Blaine Amendment that Discriminates Against Racial and Religious Minorities in Oral Argument Before the Mississippi Supreme Court

February 7, 2024

On February 6, the Liberty Justice Center presented oral arguments before the Mississippi Supreme Court in Parents for Public Schools v. Mississippi Department of Finance and Administration. Senior Counsel Buck Dougherty argued that a lawsuit blocking independent schools’ access to educational funding relies on an unconstitutional Blaine Amendment—a post-Civil War provision in the state’s constitution designed to discriminate against racial and religious minorities.

In June 2022, a group of petitioners sued to prevent independent schools from accessing $10 million in federal relief funds, which had been set aside for their use by the state legislature following the COVID-19 pandemic. The petitioners allege that Section 208 of the Mississippi constitution prohibits setting aside funds for private schools.

In defense of the legislature’s decision, the Liberty Justice Center argues that Section 208 is a Blaine Amendment, designed to discriminate against racial and religious minorities and the schools serving their communities by blocking their access to educational funding—in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.

The Liberty Justice Center represents the Midsouth Association of Independent Schools (MAIS), a group representing 125 private schools and over 45,000 students in Mississippi. MAIS seeks to intervene in the case as a defendant and urges the Court to allow the federal relief funds to reach its independent schools as the Mississippi Legislature intended.

“This case begins and ends with a century-old provision in the Mississippi constitution that was born of racial and religious discrimination,” said Buck Dougherty. “Section 208 was enacted in 1890 and designed to prevent independent schools like those affiliated with MAIS from accessing educational funding. Mississippi’s Blaine Amendment targeted independent schools that dared to teach Catholic immigrants and newly freed slaves to read and write, and there’s no way to sidestep that ugly past. Ultimately, the tension between this discriminatory provision in Mississippi’s constitution and the U.S. Constitution has been festering for a century, and the Court must resolve that tension.”

The Liberty Justice Center’s case filings are available here.


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