NAACP dismisses federal challenge against Gov. Tate Reeves

Gov. Tate Reeves (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
Gov. Tate Reeves (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)(Rogelio V. Solis | AP)
Published: Jun. 1, 2023 at 11:45 AM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Gov. Tate Reeves is no longer party to a federal case challenging the constitutionality of H.B. 1020.

On Thursday, attorneys for the NAACP filed a notice of voluntary dismissal of their claims against the governor in U.S. District Court.

However, the case still is moving forward, with the civil rights group continuing to seek a temporary injunction to block a provision of the controversial law to add four more judges to the Hinds County Circuit Court.

“This court is the only thing keeping Chief Justice Randolph from packing the Hinds County Circuit Court with judges who are unelected and unaccountable to the county’s majority-Black population,” the NAACP wrote.

The NAACP was referring to Mike Randolph, chief justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court. Randolph is seeking to be dismissed from the case. U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate was expected to rule on that request by Memorial Day, but as of Thursday had not yet handed down an order.

H.B. 1020 was passed by the lawmakers this year and signed by the governor in April.

The measure includes expanding the jurisdiction of Capitol Police to the entire city and adding four additional judges to the circuit court to help deal with the county’s backlog of criminal cases.

The law also includes the creation of a new “inferior court” to handle misdemeanors that originate within the Capitol Complex Improvement District.

Under terms of the measure, Randolph would be responsible for appointing those judges.

NAACP argues that the additional judges would dilute the power of the existing court and take away the power of voters to select their own judges from within their own communities.

“H.B. 1020 ratifies and multiplies this pattern of a white state official – whom Hinds County residents cannot vote for – appointing mostly white outsiders to sit in judgment of Hinds County’s predominately Black residents,” NAACP writes.

Hinds County is the state’s most populous county, with approximately 218,000 residents, of which 73.5 percent are Black.

NAACP questions the state’s motives behind the potential appointments, saying they come years after the last white circuit judge left office in 2018.

Judges have regularly been appointed to help with backlogs in Hinds County, including in 2022, when four judges were appointed to help amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Three of those four judges are white.

“No other circuit court has had a ‘temporary’ judge appointed since 2020,” the suit states. “To make matters worse, H.B. 1020 allows the current ‘temporary’ judges to be ‘reappointed,’ giving them terms... beyond the Mississippi Constitution’s four-year limit.”

The current judges would be appointed through 2026 and would serve nearly four years, according to a separate suit challenging 1020 filed in Hinds County Chancery Court.

Oral arguments in the state case are slated for July 6 before the Mississippi Supreme Court.

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