A second lawsuit has been filed challenging the legality of controversial House Bill 1020, which creates a separate law enforcement and judicial district in parts of Jackson controlled by white state officials instead of leaders elected by citizens of the majority-Black city.
The lawsuit filed Monday alleges HB 1020 violates the Mississippi Constitution. On Friday, just hours after Gov. Tate Reeves signed the legislation into law, a separate federal lawsuit was filed saying the bill violated the U.S. Constitution.
The lawsuit filed Monday claims the state constitution mandates that circuit judges, such as those provided for in the bill, should be elected rather than appointed.
The new law gives Chief Justice Michael Randolph the authority to appoint four judges to hear criminal felony cases in an existing Capitol Complex Improvement District that will be expanded to cover more of the whiter and wealthier areas of Jackson.
“We have elected our circuit court judges in Mississippi for more than 100 years. The Mississippi Constitution expressly requires us to do so,” reads the lawsuit.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of three Jackson citizens by the Mississippi Center for Justice, the ALCU of Mississippi, the MacArthur Justice Center and Legal Defense Fund in Hinds County Chancery Court.
READ MORE: Mississippi’s racial divides were on full display as HB 1020 got its final debate and passing vote
The lawsuit says that the fact that the judges will be appointed for a temporary period of time (until the end of 2026) does not mitigate the fact that HB 1020 is unconstitutional. It goes on to argue the law is unconstitutional because judges previously appointed by Randolph are currently hearing cases in Jackson.
“Under H.B. 1020’s court-packing scheme, the power of the four duly elected judges on that Court will be diluted,” the lawsuit reads. “Only half of the judges will be elected by Hinds County voters as required by the constitution, and citizens of Hinds County will be just as likely to go before a circuit judge who is not elected — and who may have no connection to the county or its residents — as one who is.”
HB 1020 also creates a separate court to hear misdemeanor cases and preliminary hearings in criminal cases. The state lawsuit claims that court is unconstitutional because judges for such courts are typically appointed by elected municipal officials or elected instead of being appointed by the chief justice.
The issue was combustible during the recently completed 2023 legislative session because Jackson has an African American population of more than 80%, making it the Blackest large city in the nation. The bill received national and international scrutiny.
The lawsuit filed last week in federal court challenges the constitutionality of HB 1020, in part because it does not allow the Black majority citizens the opportunity to vote on the judges.
There is no other jurisdiction in the state like the one established in HB 1020, the lawsuit said.
Supporters of the legislation said the bill was an attempt to help the city of Jackson with a spiraling crime problem.
In signing the legislation Friday afternoon, Reeves said, “The fact is that Jackson has so much potential. It is our capital city and the heart of our state…But Jackson has to be better. Downtown Jackson should be so safe that it is a magnet for talented young people to come and live and work and create.
“This legislation won’t solve the entire problem, but if we can stop one shooting, if we can respond to one more 911 call – then we’re one step closer to a better Jackson. I refuse to accept the status quo. As long as I’m governor, the state will keep fighting for safer streets for every Mississippian no matter their politics, race, creed, or religion – regardless of how we’re portrayed by liberal activists or in the national media.”
READ MORE: NAACP files lawsuit arguing House Bill 1020 violates US Constitution