WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Friday, April 21, the NAACP, Mississippi State Conference of the NAACP, Jackson City Branch of the NAACP and six residents of Jackson, Mississippi filed a federal lawsuit challenging two recently enacted laws that target Jackson’s majority-Black population. The complaint, which was filed against Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R), Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch (R), the chief justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court and other law enforcement officials, challenges House Bill 1020 and Senate Bill 2343, two bills that were signed into law on the same day the lawsuit was filed. The plaintiffs contend that these two anti-democratic laws intentionally “discriminate against the majority-Black residents of Jackson on the basis of race in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution” and ask the court to block their enforcement.
One of the challenged laws, H.B. 1020, creates a new court system with unelected judges in a portion of Jackson, the state’s capital city that is over 80% Black. Specifically, the unelected judges will have jurisdiction over “preliminary matters, criminal matters, violations of motor vehicle and traffic laws, and disturbances of the peace” 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. The complaint alleges that the unelected judges in the new CCID court, who are appointed by the white, conservative chief justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court, would have the authority to set terms of bail and release for “Jackson residents unfortunate enough to have charges filed in the CCID court rather than the Jackson Municipal Court.”
Additionally, H.B. 1020 allows Mississippi’s white attorney general to appoint the CCID’s prosecuting attorneys, which the plaintiffs similarly argue is unfair to Jackson residents. “H.B. 1020 singles out the predominantly Black population of Jackson for prosecution in a second-class criminal justice system in which the vast power and the immense discretion to enforce the law is placed in the hands of politically unaccountable prosecutors,” the complaint states.
In addition to creating an entirely new court system within the CCID, H.B. 1020 requires the chief justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court to appoint additional temporary judges to the Hinds County Circuit Court — which currently oversees Jackson — despite the fact that Black Mississippians in Jackson have historically elected Black judges to serve on that court. This scheme of “packing the existing court with unelected judges,” according to the plaintiffs, contravenes the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause since it “strip[s] Jackson residents of the right enjoyed by all other Mississippi residents to Circuit Court judges who live in the community and are locally elected.”
The other law challenged in the complaint, S.B. 2343, puts Jackson’s predominantly Black population under control of state-run Capitol Police by expanding the police force’s jurisdiction from a handful of state government buildings to “cover the entire City of Jackson, including residential neighborhoods miles away from the Capitol Complex,” according to the complaint. The plaintiffs also allege that S.B. 2343 will stymie “[a]lmost any effort to use protests or demonstrations to challenge the Capitol Police” since the law requires “the approval of the very same unelected officials tasked with running the Capitol Police.” In turn, the plaintiffs contend that as a whole, “S.B. 2343 singles out for disparate treatment the residents of a large city whose population is more than 80% Black” in violation of the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.
“The enactment of H.B. 1020 and S.B. 2343 is the latest chapter in a long history of discriminatory efforts to diminish the City of Jackson’s capabilities and resources,” the complaint aptly explains. Notably, the Mississippi Legislature’s move to usurp power and autonomy from the Black residents of Jackson is not the only instance of a red state stripping power from a blue city seen throughout the 2023 state legislative session. Across the country, in states including North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas, GOP lawmakers are engaged in an anti-democratic ploy to strip power away from these states’ most populous, diverse and bluest areas and to deny voters of their representation.