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White Mississippi Officials Would Appoint Courts, Bypassing Black Jackson Judges Under Bill

JACKSON, Miss.—Unelected judges and prosecutors could soon run a new court system to oversee an expanded Capitol district in Mississippi’s capital city, if a new bill now in the Legislature becomes law. The bill’s critics warn that it could diminish Black political power in Mississippi’s 82% Black capital city, where voters routinely elect Black judges.

Under House Bill 1020, the Mississippi Supreme Court chief justice would appoint two judges, and the Mississippi attorney general would appoint four prosecutors to oversee the district. White officials currently hold both positions, and no Black Mississippian has ever held either of them. The bill would also give the new courts jurisdiction over lawsuits in which the State is a named party.

Mississippi House Rep. Trey Lamar, R-Senatobia, sponsored the bill, which says it is “an act to create inferior courts in the Capitol Complex Improvement District (CCID) to hear all matters occurring or accruing in the boundaries of the Capitol Complex Improvement District.”

The Mississippi Legislature created the Capitol Complex Improvement District in 2017 to fund infrastructure projects surrounding the Capitol Building using portions of the sales tax the State collects from the business activities in the capital city.

The House Ways and Means Committee passed an amended copy of H.B. 1020, which spans more than 1,000 pages, on Wednesday; it will next go to the House floor for a vote.

Lamar, a North Mississippi legislator and chairman of the committee, told the Mississippi Free Press Thursday that his goal for the bill is “to help bring more people to Jackson.”

“If people feel safe in Jackson, more people will come to Jackson. So that’s all that’s about,” he said.

Mississippi House Rep. Zakiya Summers, D-Jackson is unconvinced that the bill would address public-safety concerns. “Of course, we want the citizens of the city of Jackson to be safe. Who doesn’t want that? But there are ways to go about that, and this is not the way to do it,” she told the Mississippi Free Press yesterday.

If H.B. 1020 became law, Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Mike Randolph (left) would appoint two judges

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