JANS – The NAACP Office of General Counsel and Covington & Burling LLP filed a lawsuit April 21, 2023, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi on behalf of the NAACP, the NAACP Mississippi State Conference, the Jackson Branch of the NAACP, and a number of Jackson residents and civil rights activists to challenge two new Mississippi statutes. The counsel team includes Former Attorney General of the United States and Senior Counsel at Covington & Burling L.L.P, Eric H. Holder Jr.
Lawmakers and Jackson residents have opposed both bills throughout the legislative session, citing outside attempts to increase policing without adequate training, silence dissent from Jackson residents, and strip residents of their voting power to elect judges and district attorneys who serve their interests.
Taken together, the two bills represent a state takeover of Jackson, MS. The first statute, SB2343, which was signed by Governor Tate Reeves on Friday, Apr. 21, significantly expands the Capitol Complex Improvement District to bring the entire predominantly Black city of Jackson under control of the state-run Capitol Police. The bill will also significantly restrict Mississippi residents’ ability to protest and hold demonstrations in and around buildings considered property of the state, requiring written approval from the Chief of the Capitol Police or the Commissioner of the Department of Public Safety before “any event” occurs.
The second bill, HB1020, creates a new court with an unelected judge appointed by the Mississippi Supreme Court, which will have the ability to hear and determine all preliminary matters and criminal matters within the District. The bill also continues a court packing plan by appointing unelected circuit judges to the Seventh Circuit Court District in Hinds County.
“As our country continues to face the reality and consequences of our broken law enforcement and criminal justice systems, passing legislation to increase policing, install undemocratically appointed judges, and infringe on the constitutional right to protest is simultaneously irresponsible and dangerous,” commented Derrick Johnson, president/CEO, NAACP and Jackson resident. “To be clear – this legislation is nothing new. The people of Jackson have been silenced and have faced years of discriminatory disinvestment and neglect from the state government which led to the major water crisis they are still dealing with to this day.
“If elected officials in Mississippi want to help address the results of their negligence and improve the lives of Jackson residents, they should start with completing improvements to Jackson’s water system, not undermining the constitutional rights of their citizens.
“Black Jacksonians need real investment in their infrastructure and complete control over the future of their city. The NAACP will do whatever it takes to protect Jackson residents from the elected officials that continue to fail them. We will continue to collaborate and mobilize with the people of Jackson to ensure their voices are heard and rights are protected.”
The NAACP encourages concerned members of the public to sign a petition asking the Mississippi state legislature and Governor Tate Reeves to protect the rights of Jackson residents to control their own resources, such as their water system, elect local judges, and ensure that residents continuing the fight for safe drinking water will not be unconstitutionally silenced.
Holder released the following statement in support of NAACP’s continued advocacy:
“Mississippi House Bill 1020 and Senate Bill 2343 represent a disturbing regression, rolling back decades of progress by stripping Jackson residents of their fundamental right to democratically elect leaders, undermining the authority of those they have elected, and severely restricting their first amendment right to freedom of speech. This legislative body has proven that they are uninterested in upholding their sworn oath to protect the constitutional rights of their constituents, including the majority Black residents of Jackson.
Once again, the responsibility has fallen on us – Black advocates and citizens – to hold state lawmakers accountable and fight back against this dangerous legislation. I am proud to work collaboratively with the NAACP to force these undemocratic lawmakers to answer for their brazen, historically resonant actions in the public sphere – and in a court of law.”
Over the past year, the NAACP has worked closely with leaders and residents in Jackson to address the State of Mississippi’s gross mishandling of the water crisis and the history of inequities that caused it. In September, the NAACP filed a Title VI Complaint for Investigation of the state’s discriminatory allotment of federal funds which resulted in a federal civil rights investigation. NAACP Director of Environmental and Climate Justice, Abre’ Conner also testified before Congress, providing expert analysis of the neglect and disinvestment in Jackson and the broader, national implications of infrastructure failures. NAACP leaders continue to monitor the recovery process in collaboration with Jackson Mayor Chokwe Lumumba and EPA Administrator Michael Regan and ensure that the community is aware of the progress and decisions made.