Reeves backs Gunn in bill reading suit

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 Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves

Rogelio V. Solis, AP

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves asked the Mississippi Supreme Court on Tuesday to dismiss a lawsuit against House Speaker Philip Gunn over the machine reading of legislative bills.

The legal brief filed for Reeves, R-Florence, argues that the judicial branch should not interfere with legislative procedures set forth in the Mississippi Constitution.

Rep. Jay Hughes, D-Oxford, sued on 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.

“Separation of powers, which is, quite literally, the first and foremost object of the Mississippi Constitution, holds that no branch ‘ought to possess, directly or indirectly, an overruling influence over the others in the administration of their respective powers,’” the brief for Reeves states.

“For more than one hundred years this Court, honoring this great principle, has declined to intercede in disputes concerning the Legislature’s internal rules of procedure, leaving their resolution to the members,” the brief continues. “The Speaker of the Mississippi House of Representatives is deserving of this same historical deference today.”

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. In recent years, a machine has been used to read the bills aloud in place of the clerk.

During this year’s regular session, several Democrats asked to have bills read as a form of protest against 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.

Hinds County Circuit Judge Winston Kidd sided with Hughes’ initial complaint, issuing a temporary restraining order against Gunn and immediately forcing the speaker to slow down the automated readings.

But the state’s high court dissolved that order days later without explanation, staying Kidd’s order and allowing Gunn to again increase the speed of the readings.

Reeves’ “friend of the court” brief cites more than 20 previous cases and more than a dozen sections of the Mississippi Constitution as grounds to drop the lawsuit. Attorneys at the Butler Snow law firm wrote and submitted the brief on behalf of the lieutenant governor.

The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments from attorneys for Hughes and Gunn on July 9.