Mississippi’s Black community is outraged that state lawmakers are moving closer to establishing a separate justice system in Jackson for whites and African Americans.
According to Mississippi Today, the proposed new law would let the state’s white chief justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court, its white attorney general, and the white state public safety commissioner appoint new judges, prosecutors, public defenders, and police officers to run a new district in the city that includes all the city’s majority-white neighborhoods.
Such a move would create a separate justice system for whites in an area where whites are statistically the majority.
And it would happen without a single vote from any of Jackson’s 80 percent Black residents for any of these officials.
“It makes me think of apartheid,” Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said.
Three of the bill’s principal backers said on the floor of the Mississippi Legislature that “public safety” was the bill’s primary goal because of worries about the crime rate in Jackson.
But Newsweek reported that some legal experts said that what the Mississippi legislature was trying to do was a way for white conservative politicians to try to hurt the Black vote in a way that hadn’t occurred since the Jim Crow era.
Many Republican lawmakers who voted for the bill live in districts being fought over by groups like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) because they make it harder for Black people to vote.
Bill Quigley, a retired law professor at Loyola University-New Orleans and a former lawyer for the NAACP Legal Fund, told Newsweek, “I am shocked by this.”
“I know of no other such legislation in judicial elections or selections in decades,” Quigley said. “This is not a step backward. This is a complete Olympic-level broad jump backward to Jim Crow-era politics.”
Quigley said that this kind of system was “the rule for decades” in the South until the Voting Rights Act passed in 1965 and formally prohibited arbitrary rules like poll taxes and literacy tests designed to prevent African Americans from voting.
Experts stated that the latest proposal from the Mississippi Legislature would likely be unconstitutional because it has a clear racial bias, which is against the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
In 2020, Lumumba said he wanted to make Jackson “the most radical city on the planet” by implementing policies like a universal basic income, a reformed police department, and other progressive policies.
Lumumba has been under constant scrutiny from Mississippi’s conservative establishment.
The Voting Rights Act would have helped Jackson in this case, but the U.S. Supreme Court removed many protections offered by that law.
State leaders had recently been very critical of Lumumba’s government and of the city’s liberal leanings, leading to claims that the latest move is politically motivated.
Experts said the only problem is that, unlike other states, Mississippi does not have a clause in its constitution that says laws can’t target one group, which would make this more difficult for the city to challenge the law in court.
“In the absence of any evidence that this was done with a racial purpose—people don’t tend to do things for racial reasons as much as they used to—and so the courts kind of often will conclude that their hands are tied,” Fred Smith Jr., a scholar of the federal judiciary at Emory University, told Newsweek.
“It’s concerning to see from a perspective of democracy. While in some ways, it’s not as bad as declaring secession, it also is in the sense people’s taxes are being invested in a system they cannot democratically control.”