Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael K. Randolph recused himself as his colleagues were set to consider House Bill 1020, the recent Mississippi law that gives him the power to appoint unelected judges to serve in Hinds County—the majority-Black home of the City of Jackson.
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.
Three Jackson residents represented by a coalition of civil rights organizations sued over the law in state court, but a Hinds County chancery judge ruled that it was not constitutional in May. A separate case over H.B. 1020 is also proceeding in federal court. Lawyers representing the residents—Ann Saunders, Sabreen Sharrief and Dorothy Triplett—filed an appeal soon after the chancery court ruling. The plaintiffs’ attorneys also filed a motion for Randolph to recuse himself from the case, arguing that statements he made at a legislative hearing last October and about the issue in the federal case last month “demonstrate that the Chief Justice’s impartiality in this case ‘might be questioned by a reasonable person knowing all the circumstances.’”
In his recusal order, however, Randolph denied any partiality.
“The Chief Justice has consistently been (and remains) neutral and without any interest regarding the constitutionality of the statutes challenged in this appeal,” the order says. “But absent recusal, the Chief Justice’s participation risks prolonging the ‘circus’ and allowing a sideshow to overshadow the center-ring attraction (i.e., the concrete issue of constitutionality, vel non. of the subject statutes).”
Randolph wrote that he decided to recuse himself because “a just and independent judiciary is a paramount consideration” and the “institution of the Mississippi Supreme Court must be shielded from unnecessary criticisms that would surely result if I delayed the proceedings.”
“This Order should not be construed, in any way, as judicial approval of the tactical manipulation of naming judges to a lawsuit and then seeking their recusal by litigants. Just suing a judge does not mandate his recusal,” he added.
The Mississippi Supreme Court hearing was set to begin at 10:30 a.m. on Thursday, July 6.