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‘All judges shall be elected’: House Minority Leader says HB 1020 is unconstitutional

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Photo by SuperTalk Mississippi News

An amended version of a controversial bill in Mississippi is receiving criticism from House Minority Leader Robert Johnson III.

During a Friday appearance on The Gallo Show, Johnson, D-Natchez, challenged the constitutionality of House Bill 1020 that would provide five appointed judges in an attempt to clear the backlog of criminal cases in the city of Jackson.

“All judges shall be elected,” Johnson asserted. “It doesn’t matter where they are, and this bill still has appointed judges. Now, some people referred back to the fact that the Supreme Court has appointed judges for Jackson before, but even that’s unconstitutional. Nobody’s ever challenged it, but it is.”

According to Article 6, Section 153 of the Mississippi Constitution, “the judges of the circuit and chancery courts shall be elected by the people in a manner and at a time to be provided by the legislature and the judges shall hold their office for a term of four years.”

As Johnson referenced during the interview, proponents of HB 1020 argue that the judges would be appointed to an inferior court, which they believe is permitted by state law. Johnson does not believe the current structure that would be created, if passed, as a form of inferior court.

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The chamber leader also took exception to the portion of HB 1020 that would further fund as well as expand the jurisdiction of the Capitol Police to the entire city, comparing the state-run police department to a “security force.”

“I don’t agree with expanding a police force that’s really not a police force. If Capitol Police arrests somebody, they have to call the sheriff’s department or JPD to take them somewhere to hold them. If somebody calls 911, they can’t get to the Capitol Police force because they don’t have access to 911,” Johnson said.

“You’re asking us to give us $160 million to a police force that can’t police. They can’t do the basic things,” Johnson continued. “All they can do is ride around, intimidate people, and pick them up. If that’s what you want, call them a security force, but don’t ask the legislature to fund a police force that can’t do its job.”

Rather than moving the heavily-amended HB 1020 through the legislative process, Johnson would like to see lawmakers enact legislation that would provide more elected judges in Hinds County while also allocating additional funding to the Jackson Police Department and Hinds County Sheriff’s Office.

The full interview with Johnson can be watched below.

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