Jasmine Cochran of Picayune speaks of coming home from a teaching position in China to care for her ailing father. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today

Supporters of ballot initiatives that would allow early voting and legalize medical marijuana are asking the Mississippi Supreme Court to reverse its landmark decision that struck down the state’s initiative process.

They say a 6-3 majority of the Mississippi Supreme Court overstepped its authority last month by rewriting the state Constitition to strike down the entire initiative process while invalidating a medical marijuana initiative.

When the court acted, efforts were underway to gather the required number of signatures to place early voting, recreational marijuana and four other initiatives, including expanding Medicaid, on the ballot.

“Only a party to the action can request a rehearing, and we are not a party,” said Kelly Jacobs of DeSoto County, co-chair of MEVI78, the early voting initiative. “Therefore, we filed a motion to intervene requesting leave to intervene for purposes of filing a motion for a rehearing.”

In court filings, the early voting and recreational marijuana supporters want to argue language in the Constitution prevents the Supreme Court from changing the initiative process. In this case, the change was striking down the entire process. The initiative supporters say the court ruling disenfranchises Mississippi voters.

“The court is legislating from the bench absent any authority to do so,” the early voting supporters say in their court filing.

Last week Secretary of State Michael Watson, who was a party to the lawsuit arguing in defense of the medical marijuana initiative and the entire initiative process, said he would not ask the Supreme Court for a rehearing. He said it would be a waste of taxpayer money.

In a news release, Jacobs said she hopes Watson will join their effort.

State Rep. Hester Jackson McCray, D-Horn Lake, the sponsor of the early voting initiative, said the decision of the Supreme Court took her by surprise.

“When I cited legislative inaction as my reason for filing a ballot initiative for 10 days of early voting, I never imagined that the Mississippi Supreme Court would again nullify the Constitution it is supposed to protect,” she said. “That’s unconstitutional.”

The Supreme Court took its action in response to a lawsuit filed by Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler and the city of Madison in opposition to the medical marijuana ballot initiative that was approved by voters in November. The lawsuit contended, and the court agreed in the 6-3 decision, that the medical marijuana initiative and the entire ballot initiative process were invalid because the Constitution requires the signatures to place proposal on the ballot be gathered equally from five congressional districts. The state now has four U.S. House seats after the state lost a House seat as a result of the 2000 Census.

Two initiatives were approved by voters prior to the medical marijuana initiative, using the old five congressional districts to gather the signatures: one preventing the government from taking private property for the use of another private entity, and another requiring a government-issued photo identification to vote. It is not clear if those two initiatives would be impacted by the ruling.

The ruling of the Supreme Court makes Mississippi the first state in the modern era to nullify a ballot initiative process. The Mississippi Supreme Court also struck down the original state initiative process in the 1920s.

Legislative leaders and Gov. Tate Reeves have not ruled out a special session to address the court ruling.

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Bobby Harrison, Mississippi Today’s senior capitol reporter, covers politics, government and the Mississippi State Legislature. He also writes a weekly news analysis which is co-published in newspapers statewide. A native of Laurel, Bobby joined our team June 2018 after working for the North Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo since 1984. He is president of the Mississippi Capitol Press Corps Association and works with the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute to organize press luncheons. Bobby has a bachelor's in American Studies from the University of Southern Mississippi and has received multiple awards from the Mississippi Press Association, including the Bill Minor Best Investigative/In-depth Reporting and Best Commentary Column.