Chief Justice asks federal judge to dismiss him from 1020 challenge
JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Mississippi’s chief justice says he shouldn’t be a party to a federal lawsuit over a controversial bill that will impact law enforcement in the capital city.
On Monday, arguments in a constitutional challenge to H.B. 1020 began in U.S. District Court.
The initial arguments surrounded whether Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Michael Randolph should be a party in the suit.
H.B. 1020 mandates that Randolph appoints four additional circuit court judges to the Hinds County bench, as well as a judge to preside over an inferior court to handle misdemeanor cases that originate in the Capitol Complex Improvement District.
“Mississippi has a long history of selecting its circuit court judges,” said Carroll Rhodes, an attorney representing the NAACP. “These judgeships come from the community where these voters live.”
“The history of appointing judges is not present in Mississippi,” he continued.
Mark Nelson, who represents Justice Randolph, said his client should be dismissed from the suit, citing judicial immunity.
He argued appointing judges is considered a judicial act, which is protected by federal statute.
“My client believes this case is of the utmost importance because it infringes on the integrity and liability of the court at large,” he said. “My client is here to protect the institution of the chief justice’s office, the other justices and the appellate court.”
He further argued that even if Randolph were dismissed from the case, the judge could still give the plaintiffs everything they asked for in their suit.
“Once relief is granted, assuming this court decides 1020 is unconstitutional, my client is obliged to follow it,” he said.
Rhodes, meanwhile, argued that appointing judges is not a normal judicial function under the state constitution, which reserves that role for the governor.
“There was no history of appointment, the chief justice appointing any judges except for the new statute that passed in 1999,” he said. “The Mississippi Constitution leaves that function up to the voters.”
The court expects to rule on the motion no later than next Monday.
In the meantime, Judge Henry Wingate is barring him from taking any action on 1020 until he rules on the motion to dismiss.
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