Faces of Justice in Mississippi

Court of Appeals: Standing: L-R Judges Smith, Lawrence, Westbrooks, Greenlee, McDonald, McCarty, & Emfinger. Seated: L-R Judges Carlton, Barnes and Wilson

By Christopher Young,

Contributing Writer,


The Mississippi Supreme Court: Standing L-R: Justices Chamberlin, Griffis, Ishee, Coleman, Maxwell II and Beam. Seated L-R: Justices Kitchens, Randolph and King

Words tell us so much. On any given day, just think about how many words we hear, see, or read – and from so many different sources. And our own communications  listening and sharing with – others; family, friends, co-workers, neighbors. So many words – the core of our connectivity with our fellow man. 

Pictures though, how many times have we heard that a picture is worth a thousand words? Ever wonder why that is? Pictures are a story in and of themselves. Typically fixed on a certain date, time, or even an era. More times than not, they leave us with a higher certainty about someone or something, perhaps a clarity that isn’t always achieved in words. 

The top photo shows the current Mississippi Court of Appeals judges taken from the Court’s website.

Five of these ten judges arrived on the Court by appointment; all by Republican governors. The remaining five arrived via “non-partisan” election; conducting a campaign and being elected from day one by the voters across the state. Three of those initially appointed have gone on to win election by the voters. Two who were initially appointed are early in their first term.

The second photo is of the Mississippi Supreme Court taken from the Court’s website.

Six of these nine justices arrived on the Court by appointment; all by Republican Governors. The remaining three arrived via “non-partisan” election; conducting a campaign and being elected from day one by the voters across the state.  All six of the justices initially appointed have gone on to win election by the voters.

“Mississippi has a two-tier appellate court system that reviews decisions of law and fact made by the trial courts. The Mississippi Supreme Court is the court of last resort among state courts. Decisions of the Chancery, Circuit and County Courts and of the Court of Appeals may be appealed to the Supreme Court,” per MS Supreme Court website.

These two Courts hear and/or review hundreds of cases each year, and address thousands of motions within those cases. For all those receiving a sentence, justice has been handed down. Rulings have been made, and orders are then entered from the bench. Sometimes that’s the end of it, other times there are appeals which could make their way to the Supreme Court. These judges and justices spend countless hours reading, studying, researching, listening, questioning, and deciding. They digest millions of words each year on the bench, and many are connected to incarceration.

In the United States we incarcerate 655 people for every 100,000 in population, by far the highest incarceration rate in the entire world, per US News & World Report. World Atlas agrees with that number and indicates that Mississippi, Louisiana, and Oklahoma have the highest incarceration rates, inside the highest incarcerating country, in the world – an average of 1,056 people for every 100,000 in population. Even if we slipped down the list twenty-five places, we would still be the world’s leading incarcerator.

And we know that blacks are incarcerated at disproportionate levels versus population. Stacker.com dove into Mississippi’s incarceration rate earlier this year and reported that Blacks are incarcerated in Mississippi at a rate of 2.8:1; nearly three blacks incarcerated for every white. This is compared to population itself where there are 1.54:1; over one and half whites in MS for every black.

Eighty percent of the judges on the Mississippi Court of Appeals are European American, yet the white population in Mississippi is 58.8%, per the most recent Census. Twenty percent are African-American, yet the black population in Mississippi is 38%, per the most recent Census.

Just under 89% of the justices on the Mississippi Supreme Court are European American, and again, the white population is 58.8%. Just over 11% (11.11% to be precise) are African-American, and again, the black population is 38%. African Americans on the Mississippi Supreme Court have been stuck at that number since 1985. It’s been 37 years since Justice Reuben V. Anderson was appointed by former Democratic Governor William Allain. One hundred and thirty-four white justices sat on the Mississippi Supreme Court prior to Justice Anderson, and that 11.11% remains today.

Ideally, African Americans should be better represented on these Court’s, reflecting the true population of the state. But ideals don’t seem to matter that much in Mississippi, with its tortured history of racism and oppression. Wouldn’t it be amazing if it became the will of the state, perhaps derived from atonement, to correct this obvious disparity in future appointments by Governors? We are short of many things in Mississippi, but we are not short of brilliant and highly qualified African American attorneys and jurists in the lower Court’s. What a signal that would send to the rest of the world. A clarion departure from the status quo, which is the very thing that keeps Mississippi at the bottom.

A picture is worth a thousand words.

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