The governor’s mansion in the heart of downtown Jackson has long been one of the main rallying points for people from Jackson and throughout the state to air grievances. But a new law enthusiastically signed by Gov. Tate Reeves on April 24, might have severely limited or even blocked such protests beginning July 1 if federal judge Henry Wingate hadn’t intervened.
Wingate called the new law “constitutionally vague” and issued a temporary injunction on June 29 against its implementation. Wingate also observed the absence of any rules and regulations included in the law and said that the heads of the two state law enforcement agencies responsible for implementing the law would be “left to their own devices” with “the power to restrict or deny speech.”
Judge Henry Wingate
The injunction will continue in force as the lawsuit challenging the new state law proceeds in the courts, Wingate said. No changes in the order are expected before August 1.
A number of laws bordering on constitutional violations and racist bias were passed during the 2023 legislative session and some are currently being challenged in state and federal courts by several legal groups on behalf of the people of Jackson and the state as a whole.
The NAACP filed a federal lawsuit against Reeves in late April after he signed into law House Bill 1020 and Senate Bill 2343, the two most alarming pieces of legislation that suggested a “takeover” of the Black-majority City of Jackson by an unsympathetic white governor and a supermajority of white Republicans in both the state house and senate.
HB1020 authorizes the chief justice of the State Supreme Court to appoint special judges and police courts for the area enclosing and surrounding the state properties designated as the Capital City Improvement District (CCID). Capitol police are also given authority to patrol throughout the City of Jackson with no requirement to report to the Jackson Police Department.
SB2343 prevents any spontaneous gatherings on or around state properties without prior permission of the Director of Public Safety or the chief of the Capitol Police.
Reeves said the new legislation was designed to help Jackson in its battle with violent crime. But as a taunt to the capital city, Reeves has said while visiting various parts of the state that “it’s also, as always, a great day to not be in Jackson.” Both laws were originally scheduled to go into effect on July 1. Court proceedings, however, have delayed implementation.
Attorneys from the Mississippi Center for Justice and the MacArthur Justice Center are acting on behalf of a long list of plaintiffs.
Included among the activist groups represented in the lawsuits are the People’s Advocacy Institute, the Mississippi Poor People’s Campaign, the JXN Undivided Coalition, Mississippi Votes, and Black Voters Matter. They have combined forces in a suit that challenges the constitutionality of SB2343, a law requiring permits to stage a rally or protest at any state building or near the office of a state official. Those permits were subject to the discretion of the Commissioner of Public Safety or the Capitol Police Chief. Violators would be brought to trial in the newly established capitol courts and would be sent to Mississippi State prison rather than placed in the municipal jail.
Attorney Paloma Wu, the Deputy Director of Impact Litigation at the Mississippi Center for Justice, is the lead attorney in the federal lawsuit challenging SB2343.
“We have sued in state court against HB1020 regarding the appointment of judges and the creation of the CCID court. And that case is going to be heard on its final appeal in front of the Mississippi Supreme Court on July 6.
“We have a separate lawsuit in the federal court. So, we’ve one lawsuit in the state court, HB1020, and one lawsuit in the federal court against SB2343. It is this case that was granted a preliminary injunction on Thursday. We asked for a preliminary injunction, basically saying this law on its face violates the constitution. Because of how it’s written, no set of rules or regulations could fix that.”
A TEST CASE?
Former NAACP Field Secretary and community organizer Rev. Wendell Paris of Jackson says he feels the passing of the “takeover” laws by the 2023 legislature is a reminder of how white state leaders moved against Black people at the end of the Reconstruction era. He compares the current attacks from the governor and the Republican state legislature to the era of the Mississippi Plan of 1875-1885. The Mississippi constitution of 1890 was later used as a model for all the Southern states that were anxious to disfranchise their Black voters and stakeholders.
“That bill 1020 is clearly designed as a test case on how state legislators can take power away from duly elected officials, and it’s specific to the City of Jackson,” Paris said.
“I’m afraid that this bill will replace our qualified elected officials with handpicked persons – that is, law enforcement officers and judges. It will take away 20 percent of the money that Jackson gets from its tax base. With the city already in dire straits, what this will do is bankrupt it. There’s not a municipality in this country where you could take away 20 percent of the revenue and not have a detrimental effect.”
Paris also says he fully supports the work the current community organizations and their legal team are doing in Jackson.
“I’m in full agreement with what they’re doing. Because again you’re representing those organizational bases, not just at the national level with the NAACP, but you have organizations working regionally, as well as locally. I’m in favor of that – when everybody’s at the table. That means that we can bring in other folk to build our ranks to the size that we need to have enough of an impact to prevent this governor from taking the power from Black elected officials. This can only happen when you have an organized local base. I’m glad to see the NAACP and Rev. William Barber and the Mississippi Voter groups all working at the local level.
“We can’t rely on the courts anymore,” Paris said. “A lot of the time, our enemies want us to go to court. They’d love to take this case before the U.S. Supreme Court. We know they’re going to rule against the people. But we have to have other strategies in the works to address this issue besides relying on the legal system. I don’t know exactly what that looks like, but if you put enough people on the ground, look for what’s possible, and then do what evolves as a result of that.
“That’s the reason the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party was so successful,” Paris said. “Everybody was at the table. When you have local people organized and addressing issues, that’s what white people fear most. Two things rule politics in this country: Organized people and organized money. And organized people will always overrule organized money.”