Mississippi Supreme Court hears oral arguments in House Bill 1020 challenge

Published: Jul. 6, 2023 at 9:25 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - We’re now awaiting a decision from the state’s Supreme Court Justices on the challenge to House Bill 1020. The case claims aspects of the law are unconstitutional.

This appeal is the last stop for the state court case.

”The Mississippi constitution forbids the judicial appointments demanded by HB 1020 and permitted by Mississippi code section 9-1-105(2),” said attorney for plaintiffs, Cliff Johnson, Director of the MacArthur Justice Center. “We have elected our circuit court judges in Mississippi for over 100 years.”

Cliff Johnson is one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs and argued before the justices that appointing judges is only constitutional if they are replacing a judge who can no longer serve.

The state argues such appointments have been done for years, without challenge.

“I think the core constitutional question before this court is whether the legislature may equip the courts of our state with the tools needed for the administration of criminal justice,” said Mississippi Solicitor General Scott Stewart. “That’s the core question. I think the answer has to be yes.”

It’s not just 1020 at issue. Plaintiffs are challenging an existing state law that allows for judicial appointments.

“We recognize that in Mississippi, just because we’ve done something for a long time... certainly doesn’t make it right,” added Johnson.

Then, there’s the issue of the creation of a separate court system within the capital city. Johnson argues it’s not a legitimate inferior court under the state constitution.

Justices interrupted the arguments to ask questions on several occasions.

“This really boils down to think a policy disagreement, a dislike of the way this particular policy has been deployed in this case,” said Stewart. “But that’s surely not a constitutional problem, especially when you kind of view it through the reasonable doubt standard.”

“I hope people understand that our argument is not that we shouldn’t help courts or we can’t help courts,” noted Johnson. “All we’re saying is there are a lot of things we could do to fund the crime lab hire medical examiner use these subordinate judges, but HB 1020 and 9-1-105(2). They are not among those legal options.”

If this appeal is successful, the judicial appointments wouldn’t happen and the CCID court wouldn’t be created. Otherwise, the only way to stop the law is through a separate federal court case that’s still pending.

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