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Unelected Judges Remain Blocked As Federal Judge Considers H.B. 1020

chief justice michael randolph staring straightforward with men in suits on either side of him
Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael K. Randolph, pictured, remained blocked from appointing unelected judges to four circuit courts in majority-Black Hinds County after a federal judge extended a temporary restraining order on May 22, 2023. AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

The white chief justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court will remain blocked from appointing four unelected circuit court judges to serve Hinds County, the majority-Black home of the capital City of Jackson, after a federal judge extended a temporary restraining order against House Bill 1020 on Monday.

The majority-white Mississippi Legislature mandated the appointments under H. B. 1020, which lawmakers passed and Gov. Tate Reeves signed into law earlier this year. The Republican leaders behind the legislation said their goal was to make Jackson safer, but opponents say the appointments will take power away from locally elected circuit court judges and diminish Black voters’ power in Hinds County.

“House Bill 1020 is a direct threat to our democracy and undermines Jackson residents’ right to engage in the political process. The people of Jackson deserve to have a voice in what their judicial system looks like and to see themselves reflected in those making decisions about their lives,” Mississippi State Conference Executive Director Charles Taylor said in a statement today. The NAACP is leading the lawsuit.

U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi Judge Henry T. Wingate issued a temporary restraining order blocking H.B. 1020 on May 12. The order was set to expire today as he heard arguments from the State and the NAACP, but he extended it with no set expiration date while he considers the case.

“Judge Wingate’s decision to extend the temporary restraining order, prohibiting the undemocratic court appointments required by House Bill 1020, is a win for Jacksonians and their fundamental freedoms,” Taylor said in the NAACP statement today.

The NAACP lawsuit also challenges Senate Bill 2343, which the NAACP said in April would place “the entire predominantly Black city of Jackson under control of the state-run Capitol Police.” Taken together, the organization says, the laws amount to “a state takeover of Jackson.”

The Clarion-Ledger’s Wicker Perlis reported that, during Monday’s hearing, a private attorney representing Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Randolph argued that he should not be a defendant in the case because taking a position on the merits of the case would risk his judicial integrity.

An appeal on a separate state-level challenge to H.B. 1020 is currently pending at the Mississippi Supreme Court, where Chief Justice Randolph presides.

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