By Jackie Hampton,
A virtual candidate’s forum, hosted by the Stennis Institute of Government and the Capitol Corps was held October 9 where Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Kenny Griffis and challenger Judge Latrice Westbrooks discussed their platform, experience and qualifications for the high court where Griffis now serves. Frank Riley, a research associate with John C. Stennis Institute of Government & Community Development at Mississippi State University served as moderator.
Griffis from Ridgeland is running for the seat in which he was appointed by former Republican Governor Phil Bryant in February 2019. He is being challenged by Westbrook from Lexington, MS who is seeking to become the first black woman to serve on the Mississippi nine-member court.
The winner will serve an eight-year term in District 1 which includes Hinds, Madison, Rankin, Warren, Yazoo and several other Central Mississippi counties. Throughout its history, Mississippi has had only four women to serve out of 137 total Supreme Court justices. Currently, there is only one that sits on the high court.
Both candidates have a great deal of experience. Griffis served on the Court of Appeals for 16 years and also served as a private lawyer and a certified public accountant. He stated that President Donald Trump said one of the most important decisions that a president makes is that of a Supreme Court judge and that the same holds true for selecting a Mississippi Supreme Court judge, except the decision is determined by an election. He describes himself as a constitutional conservative and says because of this, he is being endorsed by Republicans, even though Supreme Court races are nonpartisan.
Westbrook described herself as one who comes with a diverse background, not just by gender and race but also having worked as the first African American to serve as assistant district attorney for Harrison, Hancock and Stone counties. She served as a public defender and as a municipal judge. She also served as legal counsel for the Jackson Police Department. Westbrooks says her diversity of experience will serve real, everyday Mississippians and that the decisions made by the court impact real people.
Griffis on the other hand didn’t seem to believe having diversity on the courts was important. He said nine people should decide cases based on what the law is, not race or gender.
Kendrick Nash, a recent law school graduate of Appalachian School of Law in Grundy, Virginia was asked by The Mississippi Link what his thoughts were regarding bringing diversity to the Mississippi Supreme Court.
Nash responded by saying, “The Mississippi Supreme Court needs diversity to combat archaic stereotypes and overbearing generalizations of a group of people based on race and gender. It is necessary to keep a balanced court to represent the demographics of Mississippi.”
Nash talked at length about his studies in law school. “In law school we were taught that Supreme Court justices interpret the constitution and uphold the law as a collective group. In order to ensure fairness, we need this collective group to be balanced as a demographic. Furthermore, without demographic representation it is likely the outcome of many important decisions will directly or indirectly affect the group not represented”
Nash concluded by saying, “In order to accomplish the goal of a more perfect union we need diversity to combat aforementioned stereotypes and generalizations of a group of people based on race and gender.”