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U.S. Dept. of Justice intervenes in...

U.S. Dept. of Justice intervenes in NAACP’s lawsuit challenging HB 1020  

By: Sarah Ulmer - July 13, 2023

FILE - U.S. Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division speaks, June 1, 2023, in Jackson, Miss. On Wednesday, July 12, the Justice Department filed court papers challenging a Mississippi law that authorizes the appointment of some judges in Jackson and Hinds County, which are majority-Black. Most judges in Mississippi are elected, and Clarke said the appointment of judges discriminates against Black residents. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)

The Biden Justice Department alleges that the appointment of temporary judges and prosecutors could negatively impact black residents in Hinds County.

The United States Department of Justice has motioned to intervene in the lawsuit filed by the NAACP against House Bill 1020 that seeks to assist in clearing backlogs in the court system and expands police presence in the city of Jackson, Mississippi.

HB 1020 was passed in the 2023 Legislative session and would ultimately increase temporary appointed judges and prosecutors within the Hinds County court system. It would also establish a new separate temporary court for the Capitol Complex Improvement District (CCID) and expand the jurisdiction the authority of the Capitol Police throughout the city of Jackson.

Read the Filing from DOJ Here

Lawsuits have been filed both on the state and federal level against the legislation which was signed into law by Governor Tate Reeves. In April, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) filed suit to challenge HB 1020 and a companion bill (SB 2343) which increases the boundaries of the CCID and gives the Capitol Police force the additional jurisdiction.

The plaintiffs believe that the two bills will discriminate against the residents of Jackson, a majority black city, on the basis of race.

Upon hearing of the move by the U.S. Justice Department, Governor Reeves took to social media to express his displeasure with the Biden Administration’s action.

“Biden’s Department of Justice won’t prosecute Hunter Biden’s drug and gun crimes, but they will work to undermine the cops protecting the citizens of Jackson,” Governor Reeves tweeted. “I stand on the side of safety for Jackson residents and law and order in our capital city.”

The Department of Justice has motioned to intervene regarding the provisions in HB 1020 and brings claims against Attorney General Lynn Fitch and the State of Mississippi. They do not intend to challenge SB 2343.

The Justice Department’s complaint alleges that HB 1020 violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment based on race. The NAACP’s counsel did not oppose the DOJ’s involvement and attempt to intervene.

“Mississippi state lawmakers have adopted a crude scheme that singles out and discriminates against Black residents in the City of Jackson and Hinds County,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Our complaint alleges that Mississippi has violated the U.S. Constitution by creating a new, two-tiered system of justice – which erodes the authority of Black elected local officials and creates a new system to be led by judges and prosecutors hand-picked and appointed by state officials. This thinly-veiled state takeover is intended to strip power, voice and resources away from Hinds County’s predominantly-Black electorate, singling out the majority Black Hinds County for adverse treatment imposed on no other voters in the State of Mississippi”

Assistant U.S. Attorney General Clarke went on to say that the department’s Civil Rights Division remains committed “to identifying and challenging all acts of discrimination targeting Black communities.”

The primary issue the Justice Department focuses on is the appointment of special judges and prosecutors by the State of Mississippi in a majority black county, Hinds. This area includes the city of Jackson. The complaint singles in on how these appointments could disenfranchise black voters in the city and county, shifting authority over the county’s criminal justice system away from democratically elected judges and prosecutors elected primarily by black voters.

The total voting population of Jackson is roughly 150,000 people. In the city of Jackson, over 79% of the residents are black.  

“These new appointments, which significantly change the form of government in Hinds County and the dynamic of power over the local criminal justice system are intended to primarily benefit white residents in Jackson and to treat black voters in Hinds County differently than white voters everywhere else in the state,” read the Department of Justice’s statement on the filing.

The complaint seeks to prohibit the appointment of any new judges and prosecutors by state officials.

The other lawsuit related to HB 1020 made its way to the Mississippi Supreme Court on appeal last week. That lawsuit, filed by three Jackson residents, was dismissed in May. The lower court judge said then that the plaintiffs failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. The state Supreme Court the Court heard oral arguments in the appeal and is expected to render a decision in due course.

About the Author(s)
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Sarah Ulmer

Sarah is a Mississippi native, born and raised in Madison. She is a graduate of Mississippi State University, where she studied Communications, with an emphasis in Broadcasting and Journalism. Sarah’s experience spans multiple mediums, including extensive videography with both at home and overseas, broadcasting daily news, and hosting a live radio show. In 2017, Sarah became a member of the Capitol Press Corp in Mississippi and has faithfully covered the decisions being made by leaders on some of the most important issues facing our state. Email Sarah: