Monday, April 19, 2010

Mass Wrongs

Marc Porier on the aftermath of the Mississippi prom case (where a rural town and school district went to great lengths to stop a lesbian student from attending prom in a tux):
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.


Superdestroyer said...

Should the government really be able to force people to hold a private party and then tell them who to invite. The judge should have had enough sense to say that when the School as part of the government decided not to have a prom, that the government was no longer involved and the students had no standing. Since the parents were not party to the lawsuit and probably were not under oath, can they really be held in contempt?

Or is this just a sign of the coming one party politically correct state where the government will control who people interact with and how they interact?

A better question would be: why do schools still have something as anachronistic as proms? When 30% of high school student never graduating and most schools failing, why spend one minute of effort of putting on a prom?

PG said...

The school explicitly, in its notice canceling the original prom, said it encouraged parents to organize another prom. The judge, in his reasoning as to why McMillen should not win her preliminary injunction to require the high school to hold a prom, gave as his main reason that it "would defeat the purpose and effort of those individuals" who were organizing the private prom to which purportedly all students would be invited.

It will be interesting to see how the April hearing plays out. Will the state Defendants say that they lied to the court on a point that was integral to the decision not to grant the injunction? or will they put the blame on the parents for lying to the school, which lie was then passed along to the court?

Superdestroyer said...


The other point would be that a prom was held were all students were invited but only seven students showed up. If the judges had ordered the school to hold a prom, would the result have been any different. The parents/students would have organized a second prom and the plaintiff would still be upset.

joe said...


It sounds like these parents interjected themselves in the case to tell the judge there would be a private prom with the intent of affecting his ruling. I suspect there is no requirement that you need to be a party or under oath to be held in contempt. If you want to test this theory walk into a random courtroom and start shouting insults at the judge.

Or is this just a sign of the coming one party politically correct state where the government will control who people interact with and how they interact?

The funniest thing about this statement is that Superdestroyer actually believes it.

(The most legally disappointing thing in this case is that the judge thinks the First Amendment is the most applicable part of the constitution.)

PG said...


The other point would be that a prom was held were all students were invited but only seven students showed up.

Er, on what evidence do you think all students were invited to the one prom to which McMillen, the special-ed kids and a few other students were invited? Particularly given that all the other students went to a prom held at the same time?

Incidentally, I am amused but unsurprised that you are defending the kind of people who think not only the homosexual but the special-education students ought to be socially separated from the other kids.