Mississippi Judge To Rule On ‘Separate And Unequal’ Court System
The Justice Department has also indicated its interest in joining the case, saying in July 2023 that the creation of the new court is both racially discriminatory and unconstitutional.
The City of Jackson and the State of Mississippi are clashing over the creation of the Capitol Complex Improvement District court established by the passage of House Bill 1020. According to Mississippi Today, the Mississippi Black Caucus protested the passage of the bill on the grounds that it created a separate court system. This has resulted in an NAACP lawsuit. The NAACP is suing state leaders over two new laws that it says create a “separate and unequal” structure involving the police and courts in the city.
The NAACP contends that the proposed appointment of a judge and two prosecutors to the court without the input of Jackson’s citizens amounts to a reduction in the self-determination of Jackson’s Black residents. The organization is concerned that HB 1020 will have a discriminatory impact on Jackson and that the Republican-controlled Mississippi Legislature intended to discriminate against Jackson’s majority Black populace when they passed the bill. The NAACP’s lawsuit uses an argument that is reminiscent of the Jim Crow South, saying, “These laws target Jackson’s majority-Black residents on the basis of race for a separate and unequal policing structure and criminal justice system to which no other residents of the state are subjected.”
U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate said on Dec. 19 that he is set to rule on the injunction sought by the NAACP before HB 1020 goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2024, Mississippi Today reported. Wingate heard arguments from the plaintiffs and defendants and, according to the Associated Press, did not say much as both sides made their cases.
The Mississippi Supreme Court ruled in September 2023 that the court’s creation was allowed under Mississippi’s constitution but also said that appointing four temporary judges to the court was not a constitutional right. One of the lawyers for the defense, Rex Shannon, told Mississippi Today that not every action or intent behind the law is racist and also argued whether or not any legislative action affecting Jackson could actually be considered racist given the demographics of the city. He also said that stopping the court’s creation would be detrimental to efforts to curb Jackson’s public safety and crime problems.
When he signed the bill in April 2023, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves discussed his desire to curb what he saw as the city’s spiraling crime rate through the legislation, saying, “This legislation won’t solve the entire problem, but if we can stop one shooting, if we can respond to one more 911 call – then we’re one step closer to a better Jackson. I refuse to accept the status quo. As long as I’m governor, the state will keep fighting for safer streets for every Mississippian no matter their politics, race, creed, or religion – regardless of how we’re portrayed by liberal activists or in the national media.”
Reeves also issued a press release focusing on Jackson’s crime statistics, which he posted to his official Facebook page. Many, however, were critical of his numbers, including Brannon Miller, who runs a Democratic political consulting firm, Chasm Strategies, based in Mississippi. Miller told Mississippi Today via a written statement, “Mississippi had 576 murders in 2020 – the highest murder rate of any state,” and 128 of those, or 22%, were in Jackson. “And to be clear, that’s really high,” Miller wrote. “But even if you take Jackson out of the statistics, Mississippi would still be No. 2 in murder rate.”
The Justice Department has also indicated its interest in joining the case, saying in July 2023 that the creation of the new court is both racially discriminatory and unconstitutional. Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke from the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division released a statement.
“This thinly-veiled state takeover is intended to strip power, voice, and resources away from Hinds County’s predominantly-Black electorate, singling out the majority Black Hinds County for adverse treatment imposed on no other voters in the State of Mississippi,” said Clarke.
Wingate temporarily blocked the bill from going into effect in May 2023, but his December 2023 ruling is expected to be an expansive opinion and will also decide if the DOJ will be allowed to join the lawsuit. NAACP President and Jackson resident Derrick Johnson, also a plaintiff in the lawsuit, welcomes the DOJ’s potential involvement in the lawsuit.
“When our state leaders fail those they are supposed to serve, it is only right that the federal government steps in to ensure that justice is delivered,” he told Mississippi Today.