The Mississippi Supreme Court dismissed a procedural motion Thursday in the ongoing dispute over the use of an electronic reading machine during the recent legislative session.
Rep. Jay Hughes, D-Oxford, sued March 24 to prevent Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, from using a computer program to read the text of bills at an incomprehensible rate of speed.
Hughes’ complaint, filed while the reading machine was being used during the legislative session, asked the circuit court to watch and listen to a live online simulcast of the House session to witness the fast speed of the readings.
Hinds County Circuit Judge Winston Kidd sided with Hughes, issuing a temporary restraining order, immediately forcing the speaker to slow down the automated readings. But the state’s high court dissolved that order without explanation, staying Kidd’s order.
The appeal Hughes submitted to the Supreme Court on May 6 came after the session ended, and he asked that he be allowed to replace the live simulcast language in the initial complaint with audio recordings of the session.
The Supreme Court order Thursday dismissed that request, citing it as moot because the session has ended. The court will still hear oral arguments from both sides on July 19 on the broader issue of using the reading machine at top speeds.
“I’m disappointed in the ruling, but I respect the Supreme Court,” Hughes said Thursday. “I’m hopeful they’ll understand the bill reading machine set at warp speed is contrary to the constitution and, more importantly, the integrity of our state capitol. … The reality is, the people deserve the right to see this and hear it. I think in the court of public opinion, people already understand the atrocity of the actions.”
Under House rules, any member can ask the clerk to read bills aloud. The tactic is often used as a means of slowing action in the House. This year, several Democrats asked to have bills read in protest of several actions by Gunn, including what they argued were steps shutting them out of the legislative process. In response, Gunn directed House clerks to crank the speed of the automated readings to an incomprehensible rate.
Gunn could not be reached for comment Thursday afternoon.