Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Josiah Coleman, who received $5,000 in campaign contributions from Gov. Tate Reeves’ political action committee earlier this year, apparently will participate in ruling on whether recent partial vetoes issued by the governor are constitutional.
Coleman was among the eight justices hearing oral arguments on Tuesday in a lawsuit brought by House Speaker Philip Gunn and House Pro Tem Jason White that challenges the constitutionality of Reeves’ partial veto this summer of money going to health care providers to combat COVID-19.
During the more than 60 minutes of oral arguments in the case, Coleman, who won reelection to his Northern District seat last week, asked questions that appeared favorable to Reeves.
When asked to comment on Coleman’s participation in the case, Supreme Court spokesperson Beverly Kraft said the justice declined to comment, adding: “It would be inappropriate to comment on a pending case.”
Reeves also offered no comment.
A few days before the election, though, the Republican governor had plenty to say about Coleman, and it was all positive. On social media a few days before the election, Reeves endorsed Coleman’s candidacy.
“Josiah Coleman is the true conservative running in north Mississippi,” Reeves tweeted on Oct. 26, eight days before the election. “Please don’t let liberals sneak one of their judges in here. Vote for Josiah Coleman.”
When Reeves was asked during an October news conference whether he supported a proposal on the November ballot that would remove language from the state’s 1890 Constitution designed to keep African Americans from holding political office, the governor urged support for Coleman’s reelection effort instead of answering that question.
“I hope all of my friends in north Mississippi will go to the polls and elect Justice Coleman,” Reeves said.
Documents filed with the Secretary of State’s office also revealed that the governor’s Tate PAC donated $5,000 to his campaign on Sept. 14.
The Code of Judicial Conduct says “judges should disqualify themselves in proceedings in which their impartiality might be questioned by a reasonable person knowing all the circumstances or for other grounds provided in the Code of Judicial Conduct.”
The Code of Judicial Conduct says a party to a lawsuit could seek a judge’s recusal or removal based on the fact the opposing party is a major campaign donor to the judge.
It should be pointed out that Coleman was not asked to step down by the House leadership, and in theory judicial candidates are not supposed to know who contributes to their campaigns. Contributions are supposed to go to a campaign committee overseen by a treasurer.
Coleman won his Nov. 3 reelection to a new eight-year term on the Supreme Court, defeating DeSoto County Chancellor Percy Lynchard Jr.
Central District Justice Kenny Griffis also faced an election challenge. While Griffis is leading in the race against Court of Appeals Judge Latrice Westbrooks, that race has not been officially called. Griffis, whose election effort Reeves did not comment on, was not present for oral arguments in the case, though that fact does not necessarily mean he will not participate in the final ruling.