5th Circuit Greenlights Unelected Court in Mississippi’s Majority-Black Capital

WASHINGTON D.C. — Last Thursday, a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously greenlit the creation of an unelected court in Mississippi’s majority-Black capital of Jackson. 

Thursday’s order stems from a federal lawsuit filed by the NAACP and others challenging a new Mississippi law that establishes a state-run municipal court with jurisdiction over certain preliminary and criminal matters within the state’s Capitol Complex Improvement District (CCID) — an administrative area in Jackson centered around the state capitol building with its own police force. 

Under the challenged law — known as House Bill 1020 — the Mississippi Supreme Court’s white, conservative chief justice will appoint the judge who sits on the new CCID court and the state’s Republican attorney general will select the court’s two prosecuting attorneys. By contrast, the lawsuit notes that judges and prosecutors in Jackson’s other municipal courts are appointed by locally elected officials who are more accountable to the local community. 

The U.S. Department of Justice sought to participate in the lawsuit on the side of the NAACP, underscoring how H.B. 1020 was “enacted with an impermissible discriminatory purpose” of “[s]tripping local control from the Black-majority City of Jackson” in an effort to perpetuate Mississippi’s “long history of resistance to Black self-governance.”

After a federal district court judge in late December denied the NAACP’s request to block the allegedly discriminatory and anti-democratic law from going into effect on Jan. 1, 2024, the 5th Circuit temporarily blocked the state from implementing H.B. 1020’s CCID court. 

With Thursday’s order, the 5th Circuit voided its previous pause and rejected the NAACP’s request to block the law from going into effect. The unanimous three-judge panel — all of whom were appointed by Republican presidents — held that plaintiffs lack standing. 

According to the panel, “[n]othing has been taken away from Jackson’s local governing authority” under H.B. 1020.” “The legislature decided against giving Jackson’s local officials a new grant of power over the new court. That is the right and prerogative of the legislature, not of Jackson’s voters,” the order concluded. 

In response to the Jan. 4 ruling, NAACP general counsel Janette McCarthy Wallace stated that while the NAACP “is profoundly disappointed by today’s ruling,” the “fight continues…Our case will proceed, with more briefing and arguments to come. The NAACP remains committed to upholding democracy and putting power back in the hands of Jackson residents.”

Read the order here.

Learn more about the case here.