State of Mississippi

Mississippi Jackson H.B. 1020 Challenge (State Court)

Saunders v. Randolph

Lawsuit filed on behalf of three Jackson, Mississippi residents against the chief justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court, the circuit clerk for the Circuit Court of Hinds County and the director of the Administrative Office of Courts challenging a newly enacted anti-democratic law, House Bill 1020 that targets Jackson residents. H.B. 1020 creates a new court with an unelected judge who has jurisdiction over preliminary criminal matters and certain misdemeanor cases within the state’s Capitol Complex Improvement District (CCID), a special district in Jackson centered around the state capitol building with its own police force. Under H.B. 1020, the unelected CCID judge is appointed by the chief justice of the state Supreme Court. In contrast to other inferior (lower) courts in Mississippi where plaintiffs have a right of appeal, “no constitutional court in Mississippi is empowered to review the rulings of the CCID court,” the complaint states. The plaintiffs argue that although the state constitution allows the Legislature to create new “inferior courts,” the new CCID court does not constitute a proper inferior court since plaintiffs in this court have “no right of appeal to any court expressly granted jurisdiction and authority by the Mississippi Constitution.” Furthermore, the plaintiffs claim that the “Mississippi Constitution does not authorize the Chief Justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court to appoint any judge to any court for any reason.”

In addition to creating an entirely new court system within the CCID, H.B. 1020 adds additional, unelected justices to the existing Hinds County Circuit Court that has jurisdiction over Jackson.  In particular, H.B. 1020 requires the white, conservative chief justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court to appoint four “temporary” judges to the Hinds County Circuit Court, despite the fact that Black Mississippians make up over 80% of Jackson’s population and have historically elected Black judges to serve on that court.

The plaintiffs allege that H.B. 1020’s “court-packing scheme” — which does not require appointed judges to even live in Hinds County and allows these “temporary” appointed judges to serve until 2026 — violates the Mississippi Constitution’s requirement that circuit court judges “be selected by the people.” The plaintiffs argue that a separate Mississippi law permitting the chief justice to “appoint a special judge to serve on a temporary basis in a circuit, chancery or county court in the event of an emergency or overcrowded docket” also violates the Mississippi Constitution, which only allows for the appointments of circuit judges in limited circumstances by the governor — not the chief justice. In turn, they argue that the H.B. 1020 deprives Hinds County residents “of their constitutional right to vote for local circuit judges and to have their rights determined by courts legally exercising jurisdiction over them.” The plaintiffs ask the court to temporarily and permanently block H.B. 1020 and declare the law in violation of the state constitution.

On May 4, a judge temporarily paused the enforcement of H.B. 1020 pending a hearing on the plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction. The hearing is set for May 10 at 10:30 EST.

On May 11, a judge dismissed the chief justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court as a defendant on judicial immunity grounds. On May 15, the judge denied the plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction and dismissed the lawsuit. On May 16, the plaintiffs appealed the dismissal of their lawsuit to the Mississippi Supreme Court. On Sept. 21, the Mississippi Supreme Court held that H.B. 1020’s “court packing scheme” violates the state constitution, while the creation of the CCID court is constitutional.

Case Documents (trial court)

Case Documents (ms supreme court)

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