By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – This city will have its first Tea Party rally on April 17, and a retired Mississippi Supreme Court justice is among the leaders of the effort.
The gathering from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Avent Park is timed to be the first Saturday after the April 15 deadline for individuals to file federal and state tax returns.
The event will warm up with patriotic music around 10 a.m., followed by several conservative speakers.
Kay Cobb, a retired Mississippi State Supreme Court justice with senior judge status, is one of the group’s founders. She said Tea Party Oxford is not affiliated with state or national groups with similar names.
“We debated whether we even wanted to use the Tea Party name,” she said. “We came back around to it for two reasons – the next timing for an event would be Tax Day, and the name Tea Party had name recognition.”
The moniker has a double meaning – one in reference to the 1773 Boston Tea Party, in which colonists dumped tea into Boston Harbor to protest British taxes, and the other as an acronym for “Taxed Enough Already.”
Groups using the name range from the Tea Party Express, which held one of its coast-to-coast “Just Vote Them Out” rallies in Tupelo on Saturday, to state and local groups with similar messages of fiscal responsibility, less government and adherence to the Constitution.
Cobb has, as she expected, caught flak for her role as an organizer in what some people see as a partisan movement. As a judge on senior status, she can be called into court duty.
A call to the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office regarding the legality was not returned Monday, but Ron Rychlak, associate dean of the University of Mississippi School of Law, said he sees no problem.
“Obviously, judges and justices do have First Amendment rights to express themselves,” he said. “As I understand, the Tea Party she is involved in is trying to steer clear of pure party politics, even though it’s certainly aligned with conservative ideas. I think if any conflict ever comes up with a case, it would be very easy for a senior-status justice to recuse herself.”
Cobb says Tea Party Oxford is not partisan. While candidates in any election are welcome at the rally, they will not be invited to speak and will not be endorsed.
“We’re not going to talk about people; we’re going to talk about issues,” she said. “I’m not ever going to run for office. I’m willing to risk my reputation and my good record if it goes sour.”
Contact Errol Castens at (662) 281-1069 or firstname.lastname@example.org.