The Mississippi state flag (bottom) waves in front of the city skyline in Jackson, Mississippi on June 28, 2020.
Rory Doyle | AFP | Getty Images
The Mississippi House approved the creation of a new court system whose judges and prosecutors would be appointed by state officials — who all happen to be white — for the capital of Jackson, which has the second-highest percentage of Black residents among U.S. cities.
The proposed new court, which needs approval from the state Senate and governor to become law, was overwhelmingly passed Tuesday by a supermajority of white Republican legislators after intense opposition by Black Democratic legislators, news outlets reported.
The change would break with the rest of the state, where judges and prosecutors are elected by voters.
If approved by the state Senate and governor, the system and its judges would preside over a so-called improvement district spanning Jackson’s downtown and shopping and entertainment areas.
Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba, who is Black like 80% of city residents, reportedly said, “It reminds me of apartheid,” after watching the debate from the House gallery.
But if the new Jackson system is approved by the Senate and governor, its judges and clerk would be appointed by the state Supreme Court’s chief justice, who is white.
And prosecutors would be named by the state attorney general, who also is white.
The bill’s author, Republican Rep. Trey Lamar, cited reports of Jackson’s high crime rate in arguing for the new system, and an expanded police force that is part of the legislation, the Mississippi Today news outlet reported.
“This bill is designed to make our capital city of Jackson, Mississippi, a safer place,” said Lamar, who lives more than 170 miles away from Jackson. He, like every one of his GOP colleagues, is white.
Rep. Ed Blackmon, a Democratic lawmaker and civil rights leader who opposed the measure and is Black, said, “Only in Mississippi would we have a bill like this … where we say solving the problem requires removing the vote from Black people,” the outlet reported.
Blackmon noted that the new court would handle both criminal and civil cases.
“This bill is about helping to fight crime?” Blackmon said, according to the Clarion-Ledger newspaper. “What does civil litigation have to do with crime in the state of Mississippi?”