Mississippi discriminates against black residents with appointed judges, Justice Department says

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A new Mississippi law discriminates against residents of Jackson, the majority black capital, by requiring the appointment of certain judges in a state where most judges are elected, the U.S. Department of Justice said. Justice in court documents filed Wednesday. .

The department is seeking to join a federal lawsuit the NAACP filed against the state shortly after Republican Gov. Tate Reeves signed the law in April.

Kristen Clarke, the department’s assistant attorney general for civil rights, said in a statement that Mississippi lawmakers created “a crude pattern that singles out and discriminates against black residents” in Jackson and Hinds County, where the city is located. . Clarke said the law creates a “two-tier justice system” with judges and prosecutors chosen by state officials.

“This thinly veiled state takeover is intended to remove the power, voice and resources of Hinds County’s majority black electorate, singling out majority black Hinds County from unfavorable treatment imposed on no other voters in the state of Mississippi,” Clarke said. .

U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate temporarily blocked the law from going into effect. Wingate is expected to approve the Justice Department’s request to intervene in the lawsuit.

The department said in its court filing on Wednesday that Mississippi law discriminates against people because of their race, violating the US Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection.

The law creates a new court in part of Jackson with prosecutors appointed by the Mississippi Attorney General and a judge appointed by the Chief Justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court. The law also authorizes the Chief Judge to appoint four other judges to work alongside the four elected judges of the Hinds County Circuit Court.

Critics say the law removes self-government in Jackson and Hinds counties, which are both majority black and run by Democrats. Members of the majority white, Republican-controlled legislature said they passed the law to improve safety in Jackson, which has recorded more than 100 homicides in each of the past three years.

The law also extends the patrol territory of the state-run Capitol Police Department to Jackson. The NAACP claims in its lawsuit that the police expansion also violates the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection by treating Jackson differently from other parts of the state.

While the Justice Department challenges the appointment of prosecutors and judges, it does not challenge the expansion of the police.

Derrick Johnson, National President and CEO of the NAACP, hailed the Justice Department’s action as “exemplary of what good government looks like.”

“When our heads of state fail those they are meant to serve, it is right for the federal government to step in to ensure justice is served,” said Johnson, who lives in Jackson.

The Mississippi Supreme Court — minus the chief justice — heard arguments last week about a state lawsuit that also challenges the new law.

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