Recent editorials from Mississippi newspapers:
The Clarion-Ledger, Jackson, Miss., on Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act:
The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case that seeks to strike down Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.
Leaders from Shelby County, Ala., are suing the U.S. Justice Department in an effort to end the practice of preclearance, which requires states under Section 5 authority to seek approval from the Justice Department for any changes to election-related laws such as redistricting or moving polling places. This could be a landmark case with significant impact on Mississippi.
While the Supreme Court has heard several challenges to preclearance practices of the Voting Rights Act over the years, it has never come close to striking down Section 5. However, in 2009 while voting 8-1 to uphold Section 5, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that the section raises "serious constitutional questions" and "must be justified by current needs." Many legal scholars believe that this signals a growing shift toward a majority of the justices' willingness to seriously consider doing away with preclearance requirements.
In fact, some of those same legal scholars say that the Court's decision to merely hear the case signals that Section 5 is in danger of being struck down.
While we won't get into trying to predict what the Supreme Court will do, we sincerely hope that it leaves Section 5 intact. This state and this nation have come a long way, but preclearance requirements still serve a valuable purpose and should be allowed to do so.
However, we agree with Roberts that Section 5 does raise serious questions, and we agree with those who point out some of the disadvantages of preclearance that need addressing.
Local governments are almost helpless when it comes to making commonsense decisions related to something as simple as addressing deficiencies in a polling place because the cost to seek any kind of preclearance is more than most local budgets can bear. ...
Individual municipalities and counties can already seek exemptions — called bailouts — from Section 5 requirements. In fact, the number of bailouts granted have increased significantly over the recent years. The Obama Administration has awarded more exemptions since 2008 than any previous administration. ...
Section 5 can be best tested through the continued pursuit of exemptions, but for now, we hope the U.S. Supreme Court will let it stand. The need is not nearly as great as when Section 5 was originally adopted, but a need still does exist.
The Greenwood (Miss.) Commonwealth on public smoking legislation:
Another example of the Mississippi Legislature's frequent indifference to better health is its refusal yet again this year to enact a statewide smoking ban in public places.
Numerous Mississippi cities, including Greenwood, have instituted such bans with broad public approval. The idea has overwhelming support of the state Department of Health, the state Medical Association and virtually every relevant health organization.
Yet, lawmakers keep clinging to outmoded and flawed arguments about personal freedom.
Smoking in public places is not just obnoxious to non-smokers. It's also noxious to them. There is a clearly established scientific link between secondhand smoke and respiratory problems, heart disease and cancer.
If smokers want to damage their own health, that's their choice. Their addiction, though, should not be allowed to compromise the health of others.
The Natchez (Miss.) Democrat on school prayer legislation:
Politeness dictates it's wise to avoid public discussions on religion. The nearly inevitable challenges imposed when one person's beliefs entangle with another set of differing beliefs are bound to cause conflict.
No place is that more true than the United States of America.
We consider ourselves to be the land of the free and home of the brave, yet we're often scared to discuss how we might retain our country's religious roots without simultaneously compromising religious freedom as well.
Based on a series of questionable court decisions, the official federal stance is that religion has no place in our schools.
The federal government doesn't know what to think about religion so as a result we politely just avoid the discussion until someone makes a big deal out of it.
Fortunately, the majority of Mississippians are quite comfortable talking religion and perfectly happy to fight over what they feel is true and correct.
The latter will probably be needed if either of two bills up for consideration in the Mississippi Legislature becomes law. Both bills take on the issue of religious freedom. Some supporters say the bills opens the door for prayer in public schools.
We've long supported allowing local school districts the option of allowing school prayer, but the issue is so murky given the federal courts' stance that most folks choose not to discuss the matter.
Bill authors say their intent isn't to circumvent federal law but to simply clarify what is and isn't legally able to be discussed in schools
We hope lawmakers give strong consideration to them, and then we hope the state will aggressively defend it in federal court when necessary.