A federal judge will continue to block House Bill 1020 from becoming law in a lawsuit challenging the legislation’s creation of a separate court district within Jackson.
U.S. District Court Judge Henry Wingate held a six-hour hearing Monday to consider two motions: whether to remove Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Randolph from the lawsuit and a request by the state to extend a temporary restraining order that prevents Randolph from appointing four special temporary judges under HB 1020.
Wingate said he will issue an order Tuesday about the temporary restraining order he granted last week, but he did not set a date for the order to end. HB 1020 is set to become law July 1, but it directs the chief justice to appoint judges 15 days after signing, which was April 21.
“We’re glad the court is ensuring the rights of Hinds County residents to continue to be protected,” said Joe Schottenfeld, assistant general counsel for the NAACP, which is representing the plaintiffs.
The lawsuit filed on behalf of Jackson residents argues HB 1020 violates the U.S. Constitution for race discrimination. On Monday, arguments focused on the chief justice’s ability to appoint temporary judges.
Carroll Rhodes, the plaintiffs’ attorney, argued that the appointment of judges to the Hinds County Circuit Court violates the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution because residents would not get to elect judges from their own community like residents in other parts of the state served by other circuit courts.
“Why did the Legislature, through House Bill 1020, single out Hinds County?” Rhodes said. “Why single out Hinds County from being different from the rest of the state?”
Rex Shannon, who is representing the attorney general’s office, said a 14th Amendment equal protection argument doesn’t apply because Hinds County is unique because it contains the Capitol, it has a bigger population and it is experiencing a higher crime rate.
The state has an interest in addressing those issues, and he reiterated that the purpose of HB 1020 was to address crime and provide resources to the Hinds County Circuit Court to work through its backlog.
Mark Nelson, a private attorney representing Randolph, said the appointments are a judicial act covered by judicial immunity, while Rhodes said it is an administrative act not covered by judicial immunity.
Nelson cautioned the court that a ruling against judicial immunity for the chief justice could open the door for civil action against judges and a challenge against judges making any appointments, such as experts, defense for indigent defendants and court interpreters.