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The Justice Department filed a complaint Wednesday challenging portions of Mississippi House Bill 1020 (H.B. 1020), which mandates the appointment of special judges and prosecutors by Mississippi state officials in majority-Black Hinds County, which includes the City of Jackson. The complaint alleges that these provisions discriminate on the basis of race in violation of the U.S. Constitution by shifting authority over the county’s criminal justice system away from democratically-elected judges and prosecutors elected by Black voters.
“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 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. The Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice remains committed to identifying and challenging all acts of discrimination targeting Black communities.”
“One of the hallmarks of justice and the United States Constitution is equal protection under the law,” said U.S. Attorney Darren J. LaMarca for the Southern District of Mississippi. “We want to ensure that the citizens of Hinds County and Jackson, Mississippi, are treated equally in the support and operation of their criminal justice system.”
Hinds County, which has a total Black population of 70%, includes the City of Jackson, which has a total Black population of over 79.5%. Voters elect Black officials to most positions in the city and county, including those affecting the criminal justice system. Hinds County voters elected four Black circuit court judges to its four elected circuit judge positions in 2018.
With H.B. 1020, the state legislature singles out and radically changes Hinds County’s democratic approach to governance over its criminal justice system. The bill calls for the creation of a new court system for part of Jackson, called the Capitol Complex Improvement District Court, which will be served by a new state-appointed judge and new state-appointed prosecutors. H.B. 1020 also mandates appointment of four new special circuit judges by the Chief Justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court to serve alongside those judges elected to the Hinds County Circuit Court. The United States’ complaint contends that these provisions were adopted with a discriminatory purpose in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.
The complaint alleges that the state law discriminates against Hinds County’s Black residents by adding new officials who are not democratically accountable to local voters, including new state-appointed special circuit judges and a new justice system led by a judge and prosecutors who are appointed by state officials. 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.
The complaint alleges that H.B. 1020 was enacted on the heels of decades of failure by the Mississippi Legislature to provide Hinds County’s criminal justice system with the resources, funding, and personnel that it needs, making it harder for local police, prosecutors, judges, and other officials to do their work effectively and efficiently. The complaint asks the court to prohibit the appointment of the new judges and prosecutors by states officials and provide other necessary relief.
Complaints about discriminatory practices may be reported to the Civil Rights Division through its internet reporting portal at www.civilrights.justice.gov or by calling (800) 253-3931.
Additional information about the Civil Rights Division’s work to uphold and protect the voting rights of all Americans is available on the Justice Department’s website at www.justice.gov/crt/voting-section.