NAACP asking court to block appointment of special circuit judges

National NAACP President Derrick Johnson
National NAACP President Derrick Johnson(WLBT)
Published: May. 1, 2023 at 11:06 AM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - A civil rights advocacy group is asking a federal judge to block the appointment of four additional judges to the Hinds County Circuit Court.

Last week, the NAACP, Mississippi State Conference of the NAACP and others filed a motion seeking a temporary restraining order to block the appointment of special judges as mandated under H.B. 1020.

A hearing was slated on the matter at noon Monday to hear arguments in the matter.

H.B. 1020, which was signed by the governor in April, requires the chief justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court to appoint four judges to the Seventh Circuit District by May 8.

“This appointment provision denies Black residents of Hinds County equal protection of the laws, and the irreparable harm caused by denial of this constitutional right will begin immediately upon the appointments,” attorneys for the NAACP write.

“Further, vacating these state-court appointments after the fact would be more disruptive to the Hinds County Circuit Court and those with cases before it than temporarily enjoining the appointments while the parties litigate.”

Special judges have been standard operating procedure for the county’s circuit for years.

WLBT reported on judges being appointed in 2021 and 2022 to help handle a backlog of cases brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Four judges were also appointed in 2020, according to the state Administrative Office of Court’s website.

In those cases, the legislature approved funding for the positions on a year-to-year basis. However, H.B. 1020 would carry that funding through 2026.

NAACP argues the previous judges were appointed on a temporary basis, while 1020 would essentially be putting appointed judges in place for nearly a full four-year term.

The agency also is concerned that the judges do not have to live in the county they serve.

“H.B. 1020 ratifies this pattern of a white state official appointing white outsiders to sit in judgment of Hinds County’s predominately Black residents. Meanwhile, no other circuit court has had a temporary judge appointed since 2020,” the agency argues.

Hinds County’s population is nearly 75 percent Black, while more than 80 percent of Jackson residents are Black.

Reeves signed H.B. 1020 on April 19, prompting NAACP to act on its promises to file suit in federal court the same day.

In addition to adding the additional judges, the bill expands the boundaries of the Capitol Complex Improvement District and the jurisdiction of the Capitol Police. It also provides funding for additional prosecutors for the Hinds County District Attorney’s Office and public defenders for the Hinds County Public Defender’s Office.

WLBT Reporter Courtney Ann Jackson contributed to this report.

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