- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Recent editorials from Mississippi newspapers:

Sept. 20

Sun Herald, Biloxi, Mississippi, on equal work:

Congress tried to guarantee equal pay for equal work regardless of gender more than a half century ago with the Equal Pay Act. Now many Democrats in Congress want to strengthen that guarantee by passing the Paycheck Fairness Act.

But many Republicans — including Mississippi senators Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker — are blocking the legislation.

We encourage them to reconsider.

As The New York Times reported, Sen. Barbara Mikulski, the Maryland Democrat who is the Paycheck Fairness Act’s leading sponsor, says that unjust disparities in pay have an insidious ripple effect.

“It not only affects your income as you go through your life, but it affects your Social Security,” she has noted. “It affects your pension. It affects absolutely everything. The negative impact multiplies.”

To try even harder to end discrepancies in compensation based on gender, the new legislation would require employers to show that differences in wages are “job-related, not sex-based, and are governed not by bias but by business necessity,” as The New York Times put it.

Such legislation will, of course, send some employees and employers to court.

But it need not result in an avalanche of lawsuits if the language in the legislation is properly crafted. If that is what concerns Cochran and Wicker, then they should work to achieve a better piece of legislation rather than merely vote to block a version they are uncomfortable with.

Frankly, it amazes us that this far into the 21st century Congress still struggles to end discrimination.

Equal pay for equal work is simply an economic extension of equal justice for all.




Sept. 24

The Greenwood (Mississippi) Commonwealth on damage cap:

One of the bedrock reforms that has brought some reasonableness to Mississippi’s civil justice system has survived its latest threat.

The state Supreme Court, which had been asked to decide whether it was constitutional to put a cap on “pain and suffering” and similar noneconomic damages, won’t have to, at least for now.

The state’s highest court called off hearings, which had been set for today, after parties for the case in question announced that they had reached a settlement.

The terms of the settlement were not disclosed, but our guess would be it was somewhere between the $1 million cap in state law and the $6 million that a Coahoma County jury, ignoring the cap, had awarded in 2011.

Although supporters of the cap can breathe a sigh of relief, this issue isn’t going away. Ultimately, there is going to be a case where a runaway jury again ignores the cap, with a trial judge’s approval, and awards a lot more than $6 million to a plaintiff. When that happens, the high court is going to have to decide whether capping noneconomic damages is constitutional.

The cap may need to be adjusted periodically for inflation, but the need for a cap is clear. Before Mississippi enacted the $1 million limit a decade ago, this state had acquired an unflattering and detrimental national reputation as a “judicial hellhole.” Businesses were skittish about locating in the state, and physicians were scaling back their practices, abandoning procedures that had the highest risk of lawsuits. There were some rural towns where there wasn’t a doctor left who would deliver babies.

The Legislature, which had for years ignored the crisis and let the trial lawyers (including some of its own members) run wild, finally wised up. It curbed some of the most abused tactics of the plaintiffs’ lawyers, such as shopping for venues where jurors were likely to be biased against big-pocketed defendants. One of the most important reforms, though, was the $1 million limit on non-economic damages.

The $1 million cap brought a measure of reasonableness to the damage-awarding process and the certainty that insurance underwriters crave in establishing premiums.

The current system strikes a fair balance between maintaining a decent business climate and safeguarding the right of citizens to be justly compensated when they are injured through no fault of their own.




Sept. 23

Northeast Mississippi Journal, Tupelo, Mississippi, on Civil Rights martyrs:

U.S. Sens. Roger Wicker and Thad Cochran, Mississippi Republicans, have joined Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, in sponsoring legislation to award the Congressional Gold Medal posthumously to Freedom Summer civil rights martyrs James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, an appropriate honor for their sacrifice for justice in Mississippi in the summer of 1964.

Chaney was from Meridian; Goodman and Schwerner were from New York.

The Wicker-Cochran-Gillibrand bill joins a bill filed in April by U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, the senior member of the Mississippi U.S. House delegation, seeking the gold medal.

The three men, who sought nothing more than to help black Mississippians in the east central Mississippi area to secure and practice their constitutional right to vote, were brutally murdered on June 21 in a Ku Klux Klan conspiracy that involved Neshoba County law enforcement, then buried in the levee of a farm pond.

Mississippi’s justice for African-American citizens in 1964 was ignored as if slavery had never been abolished, and it extended into the judiciary. While seven of the conspirators were convicted in 1967 of federal civil rights violations in the case, it was 41 years before just one person, Edgar Ray Killen, a sometimes Baptist preacher and logger, was indicted for their murders. He has been described as the organizer of the mob that kidnapped and executed Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner.

Thompson’s bill (H.R. 4409) states succinctly why the medal should be given:

“To award posthumously a Congressional Gold Medal, collectively, to James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner to commemorate the lives they lost 50 years ago in an effort to bring justice and equality to Americans in Mississippi during Freedom Summer.”

“These men paid the ultimate sacrifice to bring justice and equality to every American,” said Wicker. “Their courageous actions in the face of danger helped turn the course of history in the United States.”

The three young men were killed June 21, and their bodies, thanks to an anonymous informant, were unearthed six weeks later.

The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest civilian award given by Congress, and it is given to persons whose achievements have an impact on American history and culture that is likely to be recognized as a major achievement long afterward. Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner’s sacrifice and achievement qualifies in spirit, fact and longevity.

We hope congressional action can be completed in calendar year 2014, underscoring the 50th anniversary of their deeds.



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