(Image via apnews.com)
Staff Writer: Maya Arruda
Mississippi is attempting to change the judiciary system within the state as a whole. Instead of elected judges, a new bill proposes to have appointed judges for the city of Jackson, the state’s capital and a black-majority city.
This bill would go against the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
This bill (HB 1020), along with another bill (SB 2889) that expands the Capital Police Force, were passed by the Mississippi House of Representatives on February 7th, 2023.
The Mississippi House Minority Leader, Representative Robert L. Johnson III, explained in an interview with ABC News how these bills would impact the black community in Jackson.
Having initially described these bills as “what modern-day Jim Crow looks like,” Representative Johnson elaborates that all judges will be appointed by the state governor rather than the people, which completely eliminates the people’s voice from the process.
“This looks like everything that some of us who are old enough to remember growing up through the civil rights movement, the things we fought to reverse,” Representative Johnson states.
Luckily, HB 1020 could be defeated in the state senate due to public outrage.
The Capitol Police expansion bill raises concern through the increased chance of violence rather than by targeting democracy in black-majority communities.
Police brutality, especially against racial minorities, has been a rampant issue in America for years.
According to the Police Brutality Center, black people are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police than white people. More statistics on police brutality can be found here.
Of course, these bills are not the first time Mississippi legislatures have attempted and succeeded in instituting Jim Crow laws as part of the state legislature.
In 1890, Mississippi legislators passed a law that would strip voting rights from those who commit felony crimes within the state to target black citizens at a constitutional convention.
The convention’s president explicitly said that the purpose of this convention was to “exclude the Negro” and that “nothing short of this will answer.”
This law was a provisional part of the Mississippi state constitution until 2022.
After a federal appellate court ruled it constitutional, the 1890 Jim Crow law was no longer considered provisional. This is because the list of qualifying felonies has changed since 1890. Burglary was removed from the list in 1950, while rape and murder were added in the 1960s.
These minute and nitpicky changes were apparently more than sufficient to eliminate the racist intent behind the law.
This is essentially what the appellate court told the public to explain their ruling in favor of keeping this 1890 Jim Crow law in effect.
The list of qualifying felonies has expanded to 22 qualifying felonies as of 2009.
There are ways for a felon to restore their ability to vote.
– Option 1: A felon must get a state legislator to create a bill on their behalf to regrant their suffrage. They must get a two-thirds majority approval from both the state house of representatives and the state senate.
– Option 2: The felon could also petition the state governor for a gubernatorial pardon, but such pardons have not been given for several years.
– Option 3: And possibly the most probable method is to petition a judge to get the felony crime expunged from their record.
HB 603, which would have automatically allowed felons to regain the ability to vote after their sentences had been served, died in committee early in March 2023.
However, a small loophole in the state constitution has been created by House Judiciary B Chairman Nick Bain in SB 2066 that would make it easier for people to get felony expungements and be able to re-register to vote.
It should be noted that SB 2066 is not a suffrage bill but rather a bill that raises D.A. salaries; Bain had to sneak this provision into the bill.
Mississippi legislation has a long way to go to escape its Jim Crow past, an effort made impossible by Republican legislators continuously ruling against the human rights of minorities.