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Federal H.B. 1020 Lawsuit Continues, Chief Justice No Longer A Defendant

People wearing shirts with HB-1020 crossed out stand outside to protest
A federal lawsuit challenging House Bill 1020 will continue after U.S. District Court Judge Henry T. Wingate dismissed Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice as a defendant. Opponents say the law, which requires the white chief justice to appoint unelected circuit court judges to Hinds County. Opponents say the law takes power away from Black voters. AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File

Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice will no longer be a defendant in a federal lawsuit challenging House Bill 1020’s requirement for him to appoint four judges to serve Hinds County, the majority-Black home of the capital City of Jackson.

“Chief Justice (Mike) Randolph must be dismissed from this litigation, which still will continue with the remaining parties to address the constitutionality of H.B. 1020 as a whole,” U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi Judge Henry T. Wingate wrote in a June 1 order.

He cited judicial immunity, which shields judges from facing lawsuits over their official actions.

The majority-white Mississippi Legislature gave Randolph, who is white, the power to appoint unelected judges earlier this year, saying their goal was to make Jackson safer. Opponents of the law argue that the appointments will take power away from locally elected circuit court judges and diminish Black voters’ power in Hinds County.

In his order, Wingate lamented Jackson’s high-crime rates.

“Caught in this ‘race to the grave’ are the most innocent—young children whose still developing lungs had barely tasted the nutritious air which was their birthright,” the judge wrote. “On the other end of this ‘killfest’ are the senior citizens hoping to spend their golden years in retired harmony with family and friends, instead of outfitting their homes as fortresses.”

Last month, a state judge dismissed a separate state lawsuit against H.B. 1020, but the plaintiffs have since appealed to the Mississippi Supreme Court, where Randolph presides. A coalition of voting rights groups is representing local plaintiffs, including the Legal Defense Fund, the MacArthur Justice Center, the Mississippi Center for Justice and the ACLU of Mississippi.

“The Mississippi Constitution is clear: circuit court judges must be elected by Mississippi voters—not appointed. H.B. 1020 is in direct violation of this rule and allowing it to remain in effect would send the very disturbing message that this hostile takeover of Hinds County—whose population is 74% Black—is somehow acceptable,” the coalition said in a June 1 statement.

“In a democracy, the rights of voters must be protected. The state legislature must be held accountable for violating the state constitution, silencing Black voters, and contributing to the unjust criminalization of Black communities. We hope the court will side with democracy and strike down H.B. 1020.”

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