Mississippi Supreme Court

Judge allows Mississippi execution amid inmates’ lawsuit

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www.wxxv25.com – Associated Press – 2022-12-08 10:11:44

Loden
FILE – In this May 25, 2022, photo released by the Mississippi Department of Corrections is Edwin Loden Jr. In a Thursday, Nov, 17, 2022, ruling, the granted a motion from the to set an execution date for Loden Jr., a former U.S. Marine Corps recruiter who was convicted in the 2000 rape and killing of a 16-year-old waitress. Loden will be put to on Dec. 14, at 6 p.m., or as soon as possible within 24 hours of that date. (Mississippi Department of Corrections via AP, File)

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A federal…

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Mississippi sets execution date for 21-year death row inmate

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www.wxxv25.com – Associated Press – 2022-11-18 07:54:56

Loden
FILE – In this May 25, 2022, photo released by the Mississippi Department of Corrections is Edwin Loden Jr. In a Thursday, Nov, 17, 2022, ruling, the granted a motion from the to set an execution date for Loden Jr., a former U.S. Marine Corps recruiter who was convicted in the 2000 rape and killing of a 16-year-old waitress. Loden will be put to on Dec. 14, at 6 p.m., or as soon as possible within 24 hours of that date. (Mississippi Department of Corrections via AP, File)

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi has set an execution…

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Leaders are ignoring the Mississippi health care crisis. We aren’t.

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Leaders are ignoring the Mississippi health care crisis. We aren’t.

Mississippi’s crisis has reached a grim, catastrophic, inevitable point. 

Hospitals are closing, and many more are on the verge. Already sporadic health services are being slashed. Hundreds of thousands of cannot afford the care they need. Too many people are dying.

Worst of all, our ’s leaders do not appear to be in any hurry to help.

In such bleak moments, it’s difficult not to ponder some “what-ifs.” Today could have been a day celebrated as a victory for Mississippi’s future — one that truly changed the trajectory of the state. An overwhelming majority of Republicans and Democrats alike would be headed to the polls, deciding to do for themselves what their elected officials have refused to do for more than a decade: expand .

Expanding Medicaid, as 38 other states have done and two more are poised to do, would immediately address some of the most urgent aspects of the crisis. It would provide health care for hundreds of thousands of poor, working Mississippians who can’t afford trips to the doctor for basic care or emergencies. It would give an immediate shot in the arm to the dozens of hospitals that are struggling to balance budgets and keep their doors open. It would bring our poorest-in-the-nation state more than $1 billion in new revenue every year. It would create tens of thousands of new jobs, and it would save countless lives and livelihoods.

But there will be no such celebration today.

Last year, the handed down an unprecedented ruling that killed Mississippi’s ballot initiative process, which gave voters the direct power to change laws. That broadly unpopular court decision halted a bipartisan campaign to collect signatures to put Medicaid expansion on the ballot this November. And state legislative leaders — many of the same ones who have rejected Medicaid expansion for more than 10 years — broke their promises to restore that power to voters.

Since we launched in 2016, Mississippi Today has proudly held elected officials accountable and provided Mississippians with the information they need to do the same. For months, our health care and political reporters have closely covered the growing crisis and its effects. But no issue warrants more focused, intensive scrutiny than our leaders’ inaction during this time.

So this week, we are launching a long-term project that focuses on the imminent crisis and potential solutions to it — including Medicaid expansion.

More than a dozen Mississippi Today staffers have been working on this project for several weeks. We will be thorough and independent, tough and fair. But above all else, we will be dogged in our pursuit of truth.

Our project will, first and foremost, thoroughly define the extent of the Mississippi health care crisis. It will show how hundreds of thousands of working Mississippians cannot afford the basic preventative care that keeps the more costly hospital visits and debilitating personal debt at bay. It will show how Mississippi has more rural hospitals at immediate risk of closing than any state in the nation and what that means for so many communities across the state. It will show how the state’s abysmally low investment in public health negatively affects every Mississippian, even those who have private health insurance and can get the care they need.

We will also define what, exactly, Medicaid is. The federal policy is wonky and incredibly difficult to understand. The term “Medicaid expansion” itself has become weaponized by opportunistic politicians, used as a smoke screen to avoid talking earnestly about its merits. We aim to cut through the jargon and political noise to show the direct effects of the policy, how it could change lives across the state, and what the state could stand to gain by passing it.

And perhaps most importantly, we will squarely confront the politics of the crisis. Even as cries for state intervention have grown on both sides of the political aisle, a handful of elected officials have seemingly decided it is not worthy of focus. They regularly invoke the name of former President Barack Obama, who championed the federal health care program in question, as the chief reason not to expand Medicaid. They disregard nonpartisan economic studies that show the enormous benefits to the state. Too often, they have even seemingly ignored the health care crisis itself.

Many of these elected officials have consistently said they don’t believe the state can afford to expand Medicaid. We will always listen to and share their explanations for that, and we will seek to better understand them. But we cannot ignore appropriate context from state and national experts who have datasets that show otherwise. And we will talk with elected officials in other states — including leaders in dozens of red states that have expanded Medicaid — about how their decision is working out for them.

We hope our journalism will force our state’s leaders to at least acknowledge and reckon with the health care challenges we all face. Beyond that, we will respectfully press them with questions about possible solutions.

Some will question the timing of this project. Lawmakers typically ignore addressing major issues in legislative sessions during major statewide election years, like in 2023. From our perspective, there is no better time to pose these questions than during an election year. 

Others will accuse us of partisanship or advocacy. An important reality we will consider daily as we serve the public: A vast majority of Mississippians, regardless of political leaning, support expanding health care access to poor, working people. A vast majority of Mississippians support accepting federal funding to help keep hospitals open. And no one can question that every Mississippian wants a better future for their children and for themselves.

One year from now, when all 174 legislative seats and eight statewide offices are on the ballot, every voter will have the ability to intimately understand where their leaders stand on the health care crisis and what they have done — or not done — to address it. We’ll make sure of it.

If you have questions, suggestions, or comments about this project, contact editor-in-chief Adam Ganucheau at adam@.org.

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

No statewide ballot initiatives in Mississippi elections. Here’s why

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rssfeeds.clarionledger.com – Mississippi – 2022-11-06 21:04:38

Mississippi voters who are used to seeing ballot measures may be surprised to find none during Tuesday’s Midterm Elections, as the ’s voter initiative process remains in a court-induced coma.

Last summer, in a case challenging voters’ approval of , the ruled that the entire initiative measure process was invalid. A new process still has not been put in place.

The court’s decision primarily hinged on an aspect of the initiative measure law, passed in 1990, that required signatures to come in equal proportion from the state’s “five” congressional…

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Will Supreme Court rely on literal reading when deciding legality of public funds to private schools?

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Will Supreme Court rely on literal reading when deciding legality of public funds to private schools?

The will most likely have an opportunity to rule on whether the Constitution prevents the appropriation of public funds to private schools or explain why the Constitution does not mean what it says.

In recent years the nine members of the Mississippi’s highest court have sometimes adhered to the plain-reading-of-the-law principle in their decisions, while at other notable times they have not.

It has just depended on the issue and perhaps the mood of the court.

Plain meaning in legal parlance, according to Merriam-Webster, is defined “the language is unambiguous and clear on its face,” and “the meaning of the statute or contract must be determined from the language of the statute or contract and not from extrinsic evidence.”

Or, according to the Congressional Research Service, it is defined as: “The starting point in construing a statute is the language of the statute itself. The Supreme Court often recites the ‘plain meaning rule,’ that, if the language of the statute is plain and unambiguous, it must be applied according to its terms.”

On Oct. 13, Chancellor Crystal Wise Martin ruled, based on the plain reading, that legislation passed earlier this year providing government funds to private schools was unconstitutional. The state provided $10 million in federal relief funds to private schools. It was added to legislation late in the session. Gov. Tate Reeves, long a private school proponent, signed off on the proposal.

Parents for filed a saying the appropriation was not valid based on that aforementioned plain reading of the Mississippi Constitution.

Martin sided with Parents for Public Schools in the case, but her ruling most likely will be appealed. That appeal means the Supreme Court will again have the chance to decide whether the text of a law, a constitutional provision in the case, should be adhered to or ignored.

In 2017, in a unanimous decision, the justices ruled that just because a law said “effective with fiscal year 2007, the Legislature shall fully fund the Mississippi Adequate Education Program” did not really mean the Legislature had to actually fully fund the program that provides the state’s share of the basics for the operation of the local school districts.

On the other hand, the justices did adhere to a law that said they “shall” receive a pay raise if recommended by the state Personnel Board. A little noticed section of a 2012 bill passed by the Legislature essentially gives the judiciary the authority to award itself a pay raise sans action of the Legislature. This judicial pay process seems in conflict with the fact the Constitution gives the Legislature the authority to appropriate funds. Plus, pay raises for elected officials normally are awarded based on the action of the Legislature not the judiciary.

Or to put it another way, when a law says local schools “shall” be fully funded, the plain reading is ignored by the Supreme Court. But when the law says the judiciary “shall” award itself a pay raise, the plain reading is followed.

The plain reading also was ignored in 2020 when the Supreme Court ruled that the state’s ballot initiative process was invalid. The court ruled unconstitutional the language approved overwhelmingly by the Mississippi electorate in the early 1990s that requires a mandated number of signatures to be gathered equally from five congressional districts to place an initiative proposal on the ballot.

The court found that because the state no longer has five congressional districts, the initiative process was unconstitutional. The court made that ruling without taking into account that the members of the Mississippi Community College Board, as well as other boards in the state, also are selected from the same five now defunct congressional districts. Perhaps the state Community College Board also is unconstitutional.

Section 208 of the Mississippi Constitution reads, “No religious or other sect or sects shall ever control any part of the school or other educational funds of this state; nor shall any funds be appropriated toward the support of any sectarian school, or to any school that at the time of receiving such appropriation is not conducted as a free school.” 

Hinds County Chancellor Martin said that language is clear. It says what it says — no public appropriation to a school “not conducted as a free public school.”

It will be interesting to see if the Supreme Court will adhere to that plain language or find a way to uphold language supported by the leadership of the Mississippi Legislature and Gov. Tate Reeves.

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Frederick Bell: Parole Board pulls plug on release

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Outcry prompts Parole Board to pull plug on releasing convicted killer

A Mississippi man serving life for murder will not be paroled, the Parole Board decided Wednesday, reversing a previous decision to free him after more than 30 years in prison. 

Frederick Bell was convicted of capital murder for the May 1991 shooting of 21-year-old Robert “Bert” Bell (no relation) during a store robbery in Grenada County. 

Gene Bell, Bert’s younger brother, told Mississippi Today that Frederick Bell won’t be reconsidered for parole for two years. Frederick Bell had been set to be released at the end of September. 

He had originally received a death sentence, but several court rulings in the past decade paved the way for him to be resentenced and become eligible for parole. Frederick Bell was resentenced to life without parole when the found he was mentally disabled and then life with possibility of parole. 

One reason Bell was denied parole is because of how his pending release was advertised to the public. Sen. Angela Burks Hill, R-, had questioned whether the Parole Board followed state law, which says notification must go in a newspaper published or circulated in the county where the was committed. 

In a Monday interview with Supertalk Radio, Gene Bell said the notice of Frederick Bell’s release was advertised in the rather than the local paper, the Grenada Star. 

In July, the Parole Board sent a letter to Gene Bell about its decision to parole Frederick Bell because members found he had been rehabilitated. 

In response to the board’s actions, Bert Bell’s family members, Grenada community members, lawmakers and law enforcement groups around the state signed a petition and wrote letters to the Parole Board and Gov. Tate Reeves to ask that Frederick Bell’s parole be denied. 

Bell remains at the at Parchman, according to prison records. 

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Black Americans seven times more likely to be wrongfully convicted

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Black Americans are seven times more likely to be wrongfully convicted

Eddie Lee Howard Jr. and Sherwood Brown each spent 26 years on Mississippi’s row for murders they did not commit — only to walk free last year.

They are far from alone. They are two of 23 Black Mississippians who have been exonerated in recent decades. Four other exonerees were white.

A new study by the National Registry of Exonerations shows that Black Americans are seven times more likely than white Americans to be falsely convicted of serious crimes.

Howard’s lawyer, Chris Fabricant, said picked up his client “because he was Black and because he had a record.”

Howard and Brown were the fifth and sixth exonerated Mississippians who were convicted as a result of the work of forensic odontologist Michael West of Hattiesburg, who has repeatedly testified he found bite marks on victims and then linked those marks to suspects identified by law enforcement.

Those wrongfully convicted in those cases served a combined 107 years in prison — more than half of them on death row.

In examining more than 350 DNA exonerations across the U.S., the Innocence Project found that 45% of these cases involved the misapplication of forensic science through such unreliable methods as bite marks.

“With notable exceptions, prosecutors and law enforcement are not going out of their way to convict innocent people,” said Fabricant, the author of Junk Science and the American Criminal Justice System

What happens instead, he said, is once authorities have a target, the prosecutor tells forensic experts something like, “Here’s the guy. We really need the match to tighten this up.”

Experts in that situation are going to make the match because “our minds are programmed to match patterns,” he said. “And once you suggest a pattern, it’s easy to match.”

Junk science is hardly alone in leading to wrongful convictions. Mistaken eyewitness identifications make up about 70% of DNA exonerations. And 18% of these cases involve false or misleading testimony by informants.

‘It really constituted deliberate indifference’

Kennedy Brewer and Lavon Brooks each spent more than 15 years behind bars for murders of toddler girls they never committed.

Mississippi pathologist Dr. Steven Hayne performed autopsies on the two slain 3-year-olds in Noxubee County. He saw marks on the bodies and called in his friend, West, who identified 19 marks that Brewer “indeed and without a doubt” inflicted on the body of the victim he was charged with killing. He gave almost identical testimony in Brooks’ case.

The trial judge permitted West’s expert testimony in Brewer’s 1995 trial, despite the fact West had been the first member ever suspended by the American Board of Forensic Odontology. In 1994, an American Academy of Forensic Sciences committee suspended West, who was forced to resign in 2006.

DNA later cleared the two men and fingered the real killer, Justin Albert Johnson, who confessed that he raped and killed the two girls before throwing their bodies into ponds. Experts said what West identified as bite marks were actually insect bites.

“Michael West was so reckless with his pronouncements that non-human marks on people’s skins came from innocent people’s teeth that it really constituted deliberate indifference, which in many states you could be prosecuted for,” said Peter Neufeld, co-founder of the Innocence Project, which represented Brewer and Brooks.

On the day the pair were exonerated in 2008, Neufeld spoke to the Black Mississippians gathered in the courthouse in Macon. “They told us that was the first day in their lives they felt they had a presence in the courthouse, and they felt the courthouse was theirs,” he said. 

That was revelatory, he said. “Steven Hayne was part of the machine that sent poor people of color to prison without due process.”

Even after their exonerations, West insisted Brooks and Brewer had bitten the girls.

West has made his mark as a self-proclaimed expert in many fields. In courts, judges in at least 10 states have permitted him to testify as an expert in shoes, footprints, fingernail scratches, trace metals, gunshot residue, scene reconstruction, blood spatters, wound patterns, and “liquid splash patterns.”

He believed so strongly in his expertise that he once bragged to a lawyer that his error rate was “something less than my Savior, Jesus Christ.”

He claimed to have a footprint on a slain child’s face to an athletic shoe found in a neighbor’s apartment, according to the ABA Journal. He claimed to have matched a bruise on a slain child’s abdomen to a suspect’s shoe. 

He claimed to have matched the bite marks in a half-eaten bologna sandwich to the primary suspect. He also claimed to have found bite marks on bodies using ultraviolet light — something no other expert was able to replicate.

100th Black American since 1973 exonerated from a death sentence 

In Brown’s triple homicide case, West wrote prosecutors: “The wound on the left wrist of Sherwood Brown is a human bitemark. It is a bitemark of great severity and is consistant [sic] with the time of the attack. The bitemark pattern is highly consistant [sic] with the dentition of Evanlie [sic] Boyd.”

The prosecution used West’s conclusion as evidence against Brown as well as the testimony of a jailhouse informant who claimed Brown confessed to the murders. At trial, prosecutors told jurors the blood found on the sole of Brown’s shoe came from the victims.

A jury sentenced Brown to death for the murder of 13-year-old Evangela Boyd. He also received two life sentences for the murders of her mother and grandmother. 

But DNA tests eventually done told a different story: the bloody footprints in and around the murder scene contained only female DNA and the blood spot on Brown’s shoe contained only male DNA. No evidence, including hair and DNA, connected Brown to the crime scene or the body. None of his fingerprints was found at the scene.

On Aug. 24, 2021, a circuit judge freed Brown at the request of the district attorney, who said his office lacked the evidence to prosecute. Brown was the 100th Black American since 1973 to be exonerated from a wrongful conviction and death sentence.

As for Howard, he was convicted of the 1992 rape and stabbing death of 84-year-old Georgia Kemp of Columbus. She had been beaten and stabbed to death, and the trauma to her body suggested she had been sexually assaulted. A rape kit found no semen.

Six days later, authorities charged Howard, a sex offender just released from prison, with the crime. 

The judge allowed Howard to represent himself at trial, even though he suffered from mental illness, and the ordered a new trial.

At the second trial, his former girlfriend testified that he sometimes bit her during sex.

The only evidence that linked Howard to the crime? West’s testimony that he found three bite marks on the victim’s body that matched Howard’s teeth.

But West didn’t stop there. He even claimed he could tell from the bite marks that Kemp was “fighting for her life” when she was bitten.

In his closing statement, then-District Attorney Forrest Allgood praised West as a visionary.

“The progress of mankind has been carried forward on the backs of people like Michael West,” he said. “The church threatened to burn Copernicus (actually Galileo) because he dared to say that the planets didn’t revolve around the earth. So it was with Michael West.”

The jury convicted Howard, and once again, an innocent man was sentenced to death.

In a 2016 hearing, Howard’s attorneys showed that none of his DNA had been found at the crime scene or on the murder weapon. (Another man’s DNA was found there.) There was also no DNA on the claimed bite marks or on the victim’s clothing, body or bed sheets.

Three forensic odontologists found the three bite marks West claimed to have found aren’t visible in autopsy photographs, “nor were the alleged bite marks visible by the naked eye or noted in the autopsy report.”

After winning a new trial, Howard saw all his charges thrown out on Jan. 8, 2021, after the district attorney concluded there wasn’t enough evidence to prosecute.

In 2009, Brewer sued Hayne and West for $18 million, but a federal judge dismissed the lawsuit, saying qualified immunity protected the pair. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the decision in 2017.

For his wrongful conviction, Brewer received $500,000 from the of Mississippi.

Tucker Carrington, co-author of a book about Hayne and West, The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist, said he believes there are other innocent people behind bars because of the pair’s testimony.

“After Brooks and Brewer were exonerated, we tried to identify as many cases as we could,” he said.

In addition to Brown and Howard, “we found a host of other cases that were problematic,” he said. “They were cases where I thought the facts were egregious involving Hayne or West or both, but we were unable to win, because the cases had lingered too long or the merits weren’t sufficient to prevail.”

Jimmie Duncan remains on Louisiana’s death row for the 1993 death of 3-year-old Haley Oliveaux. West claims he found bite marks on the child’s cheek, but a video shows no marks on her cheek until after West jammed a mold of teeth into the child’s cheek.

In 2009, the National Academy of Sciences reported that “imprecise or exaggerated expert testimony has sometimes contributed to the admission or erroneous or misleading evidence.”

The report concluded there was no basis in science for forensic odontologists to conclude someone is “the biter,” excluding all other suspects. The American Board of Forensic Odontology changed its guidelines to bar such testimony.

In 2011, West admitted the very methods he used to put so many behind bars were invalid. “I no longer believe in bite-mark analysis,” he said. “I don’t think it should be used in court. I think you should use DNA. Throw bite marks out.”

As for Hayne, there have been six Mississippians exonerated from prison related to his testimony.

In 2018, Jeffrey Havard was from death row after Hayne reversed himself, saying shaken baby syndrome wasn’t the cause of death as he originally ruled. 

At Havard’s original trial, Hayne went along with the district attorney’s suggestion that there had been a sexual assault, but Hayne reversed himself on that issue, too, saying he didn’t believe such an assault took place.

Despite those reversals, Havard remains behind bars. Hayne has since died.

Under the Law of Moses, false witnesses received the same punishment as those guilty of the crimes.

While that principle doesn’t appear in American jurisprudence, a police officer in California can be convicted of a felony for making a false statement in a report.

Mississippi has no such law.

Email Jerry.Mitchell@MississippiCIR.org. 

You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. 

This story was produced in partnership with the Community Foundation for Mississippi’s local collaborative, which is independently funded in part by Microsoft Corp. The collaborative includes Mississippi Today, MCIR, the Clarion Ledger, the Jackson Advocate, Jackson State University and Mississippi Public Broadcasting.

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Legislative leaders weigh stripping Supreme Court’s ability to give own raise

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Legislative leaders weigh stripping Supreme Court’s ability to give own raise

The did not testify during the one day of public hearings held recently by the influential Legislative Budget Committee, but that does not mean the justices were not discussed.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Randolph’s interpretation of a law enacted in 2012 that he says grants him the authority to give the ’s judiciary a pay raise without legislative approval was an undercurrent of the meeting of legislative leaders.

Actually, for Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, it was more than an undercurrent.

“I just think it is appropriate for the to do the appropriations,” Hosemann said. “That is what people hired them (legislators) to do. I don’t think there should be an exception to that.”

Hosemann, of course, was referring to the classic, old school of the responsibilities of the three branches of government: the legislative branch makes the laws and appropriates funds, the executive branch carries out those laws, and the judiciary interprets the laws.

Randolph would argue lawmakers in the 2012 legislation relinquished to him the authority to appropriate money for the judicial pay raises.

Starting after 2019, the 2012 law called for the Supreme Court justices and other judges to receive an automatic pay raise if funds are available, based on a determination of “an adequate level of compensation” as determined by the state Personnel Board. That board regularly conducts studies to determine the salary levels for state employees based on various factors, such as pay for similar positions in the private sector and in neighboring states. Until the 2012 law, the Personnel Board had not been involved in the issue of providing pay raises for the judiciary. That had been left up to the Legislature as it continues to be for other state elected officials.

The 2012 law increased the fees on various court filings — such as the fee to file a civil or on the levies in criminal proceedings — to help pay for the salary increase. Some argued at the time the increase on the court filings was equivalent to a tax increase for those who use the courts. But then-Chief Justice William Waller Jr., who advocated for the 2012 legislation, said judges at the time desperately needed a pay increase and he was trying to be responsible by providing a method to pay for it.

What was not clear at the time, at least to many legislators, is that the law would be used by the chief justice to bypass the Legislature to provide a pay raise for himself and other members of the judiciary.

In the 2020 session, House Appropriations Chair John Read, R-Gautier, authored legislation that would have provided a judicial pay raise but would have the 2012 language that allowed the judges to set their own salary based on the Personnel Board report. The legislation passed the House, but died in the Senate Appropriations Committee, chaired by Sen. Briggs Hopson, R-Vicksburg.

In September 2020, less than six months after the 2020 legislation died, Randolph contacted the Personnel Board inquiring about its salary recommendation report for the judiciary. That recommendation was for about a cumulative $2 million increase for state judges starting in January 2021 — a pay increase greater than what was proposed in the 2020 House bill. Randolph enacted the pay raise based on that report.

During last week’s Legislative Budget Committee meeting, House Pro Tem Jason White, R-West, asked questions about one of the guidelines the legislative leaders adopted for developing a budget – a requirement that any across-the-board pay raise for an agency had to be approved by the Legislature.

“We got in a position, one particular agency where raises went into effect and we were kind of in a take it or leave it scenario,” White said.

“You mean the Supreme Court?” asked Hosemann.

“Yes sir,” White replied.

Referring to the 2012 law, Hopson said, “I think the statute probably trumps what we do…When we get back into session there needs to be something that confirms this (guideline.) We probably need to adjust the statute.”

Whether Hopson and other legislators will be willing to take the power to provide their own raises away from the judiciary remains to be seen. Many of the top legislative leaders are attorneys who often must appear before Randolph and the other justices in their private lives to argue cases. They might be reluctant to incur the ire of the Supreme Court.

Hosemann also is an attorney, but at age 75 has directed most of his active work life away from private law practice and toward public service, where he believes in the system set out by the nation’s and state’s founding fathers where the legislative branch appropriates public funds.

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Powerful writing on racism could inspire SCOTUS to hear Mississippi case

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This judge’s powerful writing on racism could inspire U.S. Supreme Court to hear Mississippi case

Editor’s note: This story contains graphic language. Also, you can read Judge James Graves’ complete dissent at the bottom of this story.

A dissent written by U.S. Court of Appeals Judge James Graves Jr. could play a key role in determining whether the will hear an appeal of a case that has, so far, upheld Mississippi’s Jim Crow-era constitutional provision written to keep Black people from .

Last month, the 5th U.S. Court of Appeals upheld a Mississippi constitutional provision that bans people convicted of certain felonies from voting. White leaders in Mississippi included most of those specific felonies in the state’s 1890 Constitution because they thought those crimes were more likely to be committed by African Americans.

Though attorneys challenging the provision in court say it has continued to disenfranchise Black , a majority of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals did not agree. Following the appeals court’s ruling, plaintiff attorneys said they plan to appeal the lower court’s ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court. They have 90 days from the final verdict that was issued on Aug. 24 the file the appeal.

Graves, a Black man from Mississippi who was appointed to the federal appeals court in 2010, wrote a 47-page dissent that outlines the state’s long and disturbing history of racism and its impact on America.

Rob McDuff, an attorney with the who is working on the case, said Graves’ dissent could increase the odds the Supreme Court will take up the case.

“A strong dissent like that of Justice Graves’ can highlight for the Supreme Court that this is an important case where the Court of Appeals is sharply divided,” said McDuff, who has argued four cases before the nation’s highest court. “This increases the chances the Supreme Court will take the case although it’s no guarantee.”

READ MORE: 5th Circuit upholds Jim Crow-era law written to keep Black Mississippians from voting

A majority of the 17 members of the Court of Appeals that heard the case acknowledged that the felony suffrage provision, like many in the 1890 Constitution, was intended to prevent African Americans, then a majority in the state, from voting. That reality would be difficult to deny.

“The plan is to invest permanently the powers of government in the hands of the people who ought to have them: the white people,” James Zachariah George, a U.S. senator who was one of the architects of the 1890 Constitution and to this day has a statue in the U.S. Capitol representing Mississippi, said at the time.

But the nine members of the court who made up the majority in the recent ruling said that when state lawmakers added murder and rape as disenfranchising crimes in 1968, “the racial taint” was removed because the original 1890 language crafted by George and others had been amended.

“The critical issue here is not the intent behind Mississippi’s 1890 Constitution, but whether the reenactment of Section 241 (the felony disenfranchisement language) in 1968 was free of intentional racial discrimination,” the nine-member majority wrote.

The majority concluded it was.

“Mississippi (represented by the office of Lynn Fitch) has conclusively shown that any taint associated with Section 241 has been cured,” the majority wrote last month in an unsigned opinion.

But in his blistering dissent, Graves methodically wrote that the racial taint had not at all been removed by state lawmakers in the 1960s.

He pointed out that the Legislature did not reenact Section 241 in 1968; it simply passed a provision to include murder and rape as disenfranchising crimes. Section 241 would have remained in effect regardless of whether the amendment adding murder and rape was approved by voters.

And perhaps more importantly, Graves pointed out many of the people in the Legislature and indeed the electorate as a whole at that time had been engaged in preventing Black Mississippians from voting and from integrating schools and society. Many of those same people had been engaged in violence against African Americans.

Graves cited Tom Brady, a member of the in 1968. Graves pointed out Brady wrote in a book that was available in many Mississippi schools: “You can dress a chimpanzee, housebreak him, and teach him to use a knife and fork, but it will take countless generations of evolutionary development, if ever, before you can convince him that a caterpillar or cockroach is not a delicacy. Likewise the social, economic and religious preferences of the Negro remain close to the caterpillar and the cockroach.”

Graves, in his dissent, also pointed out that in the mid 20the Century while Mississippi lawmakers were removing a racial taint from its state Constitution, according to the majority ruling, white South African leaders were traveling to Mississippi “to learn how best to keep their own Black population disempowered and impoverished in perpetuity,” and earlier Nazi leader Adolph Hitler proclaimed the goal of making a conquered region “our Mississippi.”

Graves cited a passage from a 1960s newspaper article detailing efforts during school desegregation when Mississippians were, according to the Court’s majority opinion, removing the racial taint from the felony suffrage provision of the 1890 Constitution.

“Some husky young men were whipping a little Negro girl with pigtails,” the reporter wrote. “She was running. The men chased after her, whooping and leaping up and down like animals.”

The dissent was filled with such reports of violence and of loss of life for African Americans.

Graves, a Clinton native, was one of the first African American circuit judges in the state – appointed to the post in 1991 by then-Gov. Ray Mabus. In 2001, he was appointed to the state Supreme Court by then-Gov. Ronnie Musgrove. President Barack Obama appointed him to a slot on the federal Court of Appeals in 2010.

Graves, in his dissent, recalled his own upbringing and life in Mississippi.

“Recounting Mississippi’s history forces me to relive my experiences growing up in the Jim Crow era,” he wrote. “While I do not rely on those experiences in deciding this case, I would be less than candid if I did not admit that I recall them. Vividly.

“So I confess that I remember in 1963 a cross that was burned on my grandmother’s lawn two doors down from where I grew up,” he wrote.

Graves goes on to recount his experiences with school desegregation, and his disdain after being appointed to the judiciary of having to serve under the state that contained the battle emblem as part of its design.

Graves also highlights actions in 2020 by the Legislature to replace the flag. But after that historic achievement, he pointed out Mississippi to this day is the only state to recognize a Confederate Heritage Month, and while other states recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Mississippi honors Confederate General Robert E. Lee on the same day.

“I recount these events, as a native Mississippian, only to highlight the importance of making the right decision in this case,” Graves wrote.

Read Judge Graves’ complete dissent below. His dissent begins on page 36.

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

State government affected by Jackson water failure

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State government operations affected by Jackson water system failure

Jackson’s water crisis is affecting government, with some offices based in Jackson reporting closures, delayed or shortened schedules and reduced staffing.

The Department of Finance and Administration, which oversees and maintains state office buildings and grounds, directed inquiries about state office operations to Gov. Tate Reeves’ office, which did not respond to a request for comment.

But several state agencies have reported their status. They include:

Mississippi Department of Human Services 

The MDHS office in is closed due to lack of water. Hinds County DHS staff is working from other MDHS offices in the metro and continuing their eligibility appointments by phone and conference. Clients with appointments in Hinds County may expect contact from the case manager around their appointment time. 

Applications for assistance and services may be completed online at Applications – Mississippi Department of Human Services (ms.gov)

Child Support Enforcement offices in Jackson are closed.  Please contact Child Support Customer Service at 877.882.4916 or visit one of the following locations:

  • Ridgeland
  • Yazoo City
  • Magee
  • Vicksburg
  • Forest 

MDHS programmatic staff are processing applications and receiving calls as they are received. 

Supreme Court, state courts

The received communications on Monday afternoon, Aug. 29, from the state Department of Finance and Administration and the State Personnel Board and reviewed announcements from the City of Jackson regarding water issues affecting the capital city.

After conferring with the Supreme Court Executive Committee and department heads, Chief Justice Mike Randolph announced that the Gartin Justice Building will temporarily operate with reduced staff on Tuesday.  Most staff of the appellate courts and the Administrative Office of Courts will work remotely.  No decision has been made as to how long the reduced staffing and remote operations will be necessary.

Chief Justice Randolph, in his capacity as chief administrative officer of all courts in the state, finds that consistent with the Constitution of the State of Mississippi, all courts shall remain open. The Supreme Court, the Mississippi Court of Appeals and the Administrative Office of Courts will operate with essential staffing to keep the courts open. The office of the Clerk of the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals will remain open.

Presiding Justice Jim Kitchens said, “Because of COVID, we know how to operate remotely.”

Department of Archives and History/museums

The Two Mississippi Museums, Eudora Welty House & Garden, and the archives library will be closed Tuesday, August 30, 2022, due to the low water pressure in Jackson.

Follow us on FacebookInstagram, or Twitter for updates. 

Visit www.mdah.ms.gov/explore-mississippi for more information about our one-of-a-kind museums, historical sites and cultural attractions throughout the state. Learn more about researching at archives here.

Driver’s License Services

Due to the water emergency in the city limits of Jackson, Mississippi, the Driver’s Service Bureau located at 1900 E. Woodrow Wilson Ave. in Jackson, Mississippi will be closed until further notice.

Driver’s Service staff will relocate to the Pearl Office/Troop C located at 3851 Highway 468 West, Pearl, Mississippi, 39208. This location will be appointment only. We encourage you to visit our website for any additional information.

“We appreciate your patience during this crisis in Jackson,” said Deputy Commissioner Keith Davis. “I assure you that our staff is committed to working and providing the customer service you come to expect from the Mississippi Department of Public Safety. We apologize for this inconvenience.

Attorney General’s office

AG spokeswoman Michelle Williams said: “Some are teleworking. Many are in the office.  We are asking everyone to go to the ground floor to use the restroom.”

Secretary of State

Office buildings located in the Jackson area are temporarily closed to the public due to the ongoing Jackson water crisis. All staff and resources are still available and will continue to provide first class service to all by responding to emails, answering calls, and aiding with online resources.

For assistance, call 601-359-1350 during business hours or visit our website, sos.ms.gov, for more information. We will continue to provide updates, as necessary.

Department of Insurance

As of midday, Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney said his staff was working in the Woolfolk state office building downtown, though he said the water pressure was low.

This article first on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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