A federal judge will decide whether to approve another injunction to prevent state appointments to a new, separate court system in Jackson set to go into effect in two weeks.
U.S. District Court Judge Henry Wingate said Tuesday he plans to rule on the injunction and other pending court motions before Jan. 1, 2024, which is when the Capitol Complex Improvement District court will be created through House Bill 1020.
Wingate heard arguments about the injunction in a NAACP lawsuit on behalf of Jackson residents that is challenging the court appointments required under the law. The injunction seeks to prevent Chief Justice Michael Randolph from appointing one judge and Attorney General Lynn Fitch from appointing two prosecutors to the Capitol Complex Improvement District court.
Brenden Cline, who is representing the plaintiffs, called HB 1020 “a comprehensive overhaul of the criminal justice system in Jackson” and a change in status quo for the city’s voters.
They won’t get to elect judges from their community who can be held accountable like other communities across the state do, he said. Plaintiffs also argue that the legislation dilutes the voting power of Jackson residents and stigmatizes them, sending the message that they are unfit to have a say in their own local government.
Cline also argued that HB 1020 has discriminatory impact on the majority Black city, had discriminatory intent by the Legislature and that the plaintiffs would suffer irreparable harm to their voting rights and their 14th Amendment rights.
He emphasized that the plaintiffs are challenging state officials’ appointments to, not the creation of, the CCID court.
The Mississippi Supreme Court ruled in September that creating the CCID court would be allowed under the state constitution. It also ruled that appointing four temporary judges to Hinds County Circuit Court was unconstitutional.
Rex Shannon, who is representing the defendants from the attorney general’s office, said the plaintiffs don’t have standing and the burden is on them to prove discriminatory intent and risk of actual, imminent harm.
Voting rights are not an issue in this case, he said, and nothing in HB 1020 affects the plaintiffs’ voting rights. Shannon added that the legislation doesn’t change the way judges are elected in Jackson and Hinds County, nor did it remove elected judge positions.
Shannon also emphasized that not every action or intent behind the legislation is racist, including how judicial appointments would be made and how the CCID court would function.
He also said the plaintiffs have assumed the Legislature was not acting in good faith when crafting and passing HB 1020. Shannon asked whether any legislative act relating to Jackson could be seen as discriminatory based on the city’s racial makeup.
Shannon argued that blocking creation of the CCID court would prevent lawmakers from addressing Jackson’s ongoing public safety and criminal justice issues.
The city is in need of additional resources, he said, and the Legislature is providing them by supporting the Capitol Police and establishing the court to handle the force’s increase in cases, rather than adding additional cases to the Hinds County Circuit Court, which is experiencing a backlog, he said.
“That shouldn’t be controversial at all,” Shannon said about the state’s interest in Jackson as the capital city and its efforts to address crime there.
In his rebuttal, Cline asked whether the state could have funded the existing Jackson and Hinds County criminal justice system rather than creating a new one. He said the assumption is that the Legislature would have to write a blank check, but the city’s delegation and local leaders over the years have requested funding that the Legislature has not approved.
Chief Justice Randolph’s place in the lawsuit was brought up again in court.
Randolph was a defendant in the lawsuit up until September when Wingate removed him under judicial immunity, paving the way for Randolph to proceed with judicial appointments. As of December, Randolph has not appointed any judges to the CCID or temporary judges to work in the Hinds County Circuit Court.
The plaintiffs proposed a workaround to block Randolph’s judicial appointments even though he is no longer part of the lawsuit.
Those motions and others, including a request from the U.S. Department of Justice to intervene, are awaiting a ruling from Wingate. He said Tuesday that he would address them in an elongated opinion.
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