In spring a young woman’s fancy turns to love. Take Constance McMillen for example. A senior at Itawamba Agricultural High School in north Mississippi, McMillen has been out as a lesbian since the eighth grade. Back in February the high school — for some reason — issued a policy directing that only opposite sex couples could attend the upcoming prom in early April. McMillen asked for an exception so she could bring her girlfriend, and she also asked permission to wear a tuxedo. The high school and the county school board denied her requests. McMillen and the girlfriend could attend, but only if each came with a boy as her date, if the girls wore dresses (not a tux, not slacks and a nice top), and if they did not slow dance with each other, which would “push people’s buttons”. After McMillen got the Mississippi ACLU involved, the school board cancelled the prom altogether, citing potential “distractions to the educational process”. The school board expressed the “hope that private citizens [would] organize an event for the juniors and seniors.”
McMillen promptly sued in federal court, seeking an injunction to compel the prom to go forward. In a decision issued March 23, just one day after the hearing, Senior U.S. District Judge Glen Davidson (no liberal he — a Reagan appointee) denied her request. McMillen v. Itawamba County School Dist., 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 27589 (N.D. Miss. 2010). The opinion contains some interesting holdings. The judge found that McMillen had a First Amendment interest in attending the prom with a same-sex partner, and also a First Amendment interest in wearing cross-gender formal attire to the prom. More on those notions in a moment. Holding number three — he denied the preliminary injunction, based on his assessment of the familiar fourth factor for injunctive relief, consideration of the public interest. There was no need to reinject the school board into the prom process via court order or to get the court involved in planning and overseeing a prom, he found, because the parents of the high school students represented to him that they were now planning a ”private” prom which all the students in the high school would be invited to attend. Judge Davidson’s opinion used the scare quotes around “private” and the italics for all. Perhaps he suspected something was up.
With good reason, it turns out. There were some additional shenanigans. McMillen couldn’t find out where to buy a ticket to the “private” prom, then when she did, was told she had missed the cutoff time for purchase by a few minutes. Then the parents announced that the prom they had told the judge about was cancelled altogether. Eventually, though, McMillen thought that it was finally settled and on April 2 off she went in her tuxedo to her hard-won prom. Only to find it was a decoy. McMillen and her date (not the girlfriend, BTW – the girlfriend’s parents wouldn’t let her attend because of the media attention) were just about the only ones there — five other students, two of them with learning disabilities, and the chaperones, who were the high school principal and other school officials. All the other students had gone to another, ”private” prom being held at the same time in a location concealed from McMillen. Some of the high school students later bragged on Facebook about the whole deception, further mocking McMillen.
Ah, but the court encounter is not over. Judge Davidson indicated he would hold a hearing on damages some time in April. That should give him an occasion to explore whether the parents lied to him back in March (contempt?), and whether they were in cahoots with the school officials (state action, conspiracy?). I hope he slams them all big time. Perhaps he should find the entire community of Fulton, Mississippi, (pop. 4000) in contempt if the evidence warrants and if there’s a way to do it.
It would please me greatly if these parents were hit with massive contempt fines.