HB 1020 power grab now in the Courts

The Honorable J Dewayne Thomas. AP Photo

By Christopher Young ,

Contributing Writer,

The Honorable J Dewayne Thomas. AP Photo
The Honorable Henry T. Wingate

ong before Governor Reeves signed HB1020 into law on April 21, 2023, it was evident that this Jim Crow-type legislation would be challenged. True to their word, the NAACP filed suit only hours after the bill became law, in Federal Court claiming the law is unconstitutional. Part of the suit reads, “These laws target Jackson’s Majority-Black residents on the basis of race for a separate and unequal policing structure and criminal justice system to which no other residents of the state are subjected.”

A second lawsuit was filed on April 24, 2023, in State Court on behalf of Jackson residents Ann Saunders, Sabreen Sharrief, and Dorothy Triplett by the Mississippi Center for Justice, the ALCU of Mississippi, the MacArthur Justice Center and Legal Defense Fund, in Hinds County Chancery Court.

The nuts and bolts of the law are this: “It would create a new unelected court system within an expanded Capitol Complex Improvement District, add temporary appointed judges to the Hinds County court system, increase the boundaries of the CCID and allow Capitol Police to work outside of that area, expanding their jurisdiction to include the entire city, all of which local leaders have opposed,” per The Clarion-Ledger on March 31, 2023.

The bill which Representative Christopher Bell (D-65) – Hinds county, calls the creation of a city within a city, was drafted far away from Jackson, by a white lawyer who lives in Senatobia – John Lamar (R-08) – Lafayette and Tate counties, and was cosponsored by Fred Shanks (R-60) – Rankin county and Price Wallace (R-77) – Rankin and Simpson counties, also white men, and all professed Christians, of course. 

According to Legiscan.com, the Bill passed the Senate on a 31-15 vote, with four Senators not voting on March 30, 2023, then passed the House the following day with a 72-41 vote with seven Representatives not voting – all done along party lines.

Had Lamar been sincerely trying to help Jackson/Hinds, he would have sat down with our legislators and asked to help. He would have solicited their ideas for improving their county and Capital City. He would have met with residents, arranged public forums, and sought input, but he did none of these. He drafted legislation and then sprang it upon us at the start of the legislative session in January, knowing full well that a Republican trifecta exists – a supermajority in both legislative chambers, and a Republican governor.

Long focused on discrimination and poverty issues in Mississippi, the Mississippi Center for Justice weighed in with a statement on April 21, 2023, that reads in part: “House Bill 1020 is a blatant power grab to usurp democratically elected officials and constitutional processes, and would further dilute black representation and voices in Hinds County and the City of Jackson, Mississippi. This is a gross example of gov ernment overreach – an attempt by singularly focused state leadership to impose its will on a sovereign municipality and strip autonomy from Jackson and Hinds County. This should concern every single one of us – every community, large or small, regardless of racial or economic makeup across our state and nation. This unprecedented power grab exists only for Hinds County, a majority black county with a majority black electorate, where the legislature has created a new Judicial District for the Capital Complex Improvement District (CCID) for a sprawling area of Hinds County that includes the Capitol, the Jackson State corridor, and other important areas of the City of Jackson and Hinds County.”

MCJ CEO Vangela Wade goes on to say, “Notably, it appears the new court would have exclusive jurisdiction over all suits brought against the State of Mississippi and its agencies…reducing the jurisdiction of the duly elected justice court, circuit court, and chancery judges, as well as the District Attorney of Hinds County, blatantly disregarding the will of Jackson and Hinds County voters. Not only is this proposal likely unconstitutional, but it would also divert critical tax revenue away from Jackson – which still does not have clean drinking water – and siphon money from the city taxpayers to fund this politically overzealous and unnecessary scheme.”

The lawsuit being heard by Chancery Court Judge J. Dewayne Thomas, is Civil Action styled G-2023-421 T/1 Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief. Thus far, Judge Thomas has issued a temporary restraining order to block the implementation of expanding Capitol Police jurisdiction, and has dismissed Chief Justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court, Michael Randolph and Hinds County Clerk of Circuit Court, Zack Wallace from the suit due to their statutory responsibilities, but he has added The State of Mississippi and Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch to the suit, per WLBT reporting on May 11, 2023.

As this week begins, Mississippi Today reported on May 15, 2023, that “Judge Thomas has denied a preliminary injunction to block HB1020 from becoming law.” Quoting from his Memorandum, the article goes on to say, “However, disappointment and frustration with the legislative process does not create a judicial right to relief…and that plaintiffs did not provide enough evidence that the appointment of temporary judges within HB1020 and establishment of the Capitol Complex Improvement District court are unconstitutional beyond a reasonable doubt.” 

This ruling flies in the face of the one-page statement issued by sixteen Hinds County judges that appointing prosecutors and judges violates the Mississippi Constitution, reported by CNN on January 30, 2023. Not surprisingly, on May 16, 2023, the three plaintiffs filed an appeal to the Supreme Court of Mississippi, per a post on Twitter by attorney Blake Feldman.

On the Federal side, “U.S. District Court Judge Henry Wingate has issued an order blocking the Mississippi Supreme Court chief justice from appointing judges in Jackson in response to an NAACP lawsuit seeking a restraining order to prevent House Bill 1020 from going into effect, per WAPT reporting on May 12, 2023.

The Mississippi House Democratic Caucus said in a statement on January 31, “HB 1020 is a racist, unconstitutional power grab. It is control of a city masquerading as concern for its citizens.” They assert that this bill “follows a pattern we’ve become all too familiar with: starve a community of much-needed resources, blame black leaders for incompetence, attempt to take over.”

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