Mississippi – Is Appointing Judges Racist?

A strange twist is afoot in Mississippi, and it represents the modern tendency to accuse first, shout racism, examine facts later. Getting to truth is worth the time, closely looking at facts before pushing easy narratives, hate, riots, and “Jim Crow” accusations.

In short, the capitol city of Mississippi is Jackson, as Washington DC is America’s capitol. The city has roughly 150,000 residents, 80 percent black, 15 percent white, five percent other.

A law is under consideration – passed in the House – to shift part of Jackson’s judicial and prosecutorial makeup from elected to appointed officers. The appointments would come from the Supreme Court.

Because the city district affected is demographically more white than black – the argument is that “appointing” is racist, or likely to produce more white judges. A certain irony attaches to this argument, since if all judges were elected by district, elections might produce more white judges here.

But let’s dig deeper. What is really happening in Jackson? What makes it different – might otherwise explain changing the system? For starters, high crime. Jackson’s crime rate is double the national average, triple Mississippi’s average, especially murder, rape, robbery, and assault.

That spike follows the devastating 2020 race riots, led by “Black Lives Matter.” Those riots were violent, spawned post-riot violence. In 2020, Jackson recorded the highest number of murders in the city’s history, more killing than New Orleans or Memphis.

The aftershocks were measurable, obvious. Police morale plummeted, recruiting and retention fell through the floor, population insecure. This reinforced crime, and attacks on the police, as well as disaffection for prosecutors, judges, and pro “rule of law” political actors.

Ironically, the top six officers in the Jackson Police Command Staff are black, chief, assistant, and four deputies. More to the point, legislators of every stripe, black and white, Democrat and Republican know “rule of law” is tenuous.

As one black Democrat legislator bluntly notes: “We are not going to prosper in Jackson if there’s not rule of law in place… We’re losing businesses … family.. Anyone who can get out of Jackson right now is largely getting out. I believe that we’ve got to do something differently from what we’ve been doing.”

He is not wrong. Even before the recent exodus, rise of fear, decline of police, accelerating crime, Jackson was hemorrhaging residents. In fact, Jackson lost more residents between 2010 and 2020 than any city in America. If you want shock – that is shock.

As Republicans – who control the legislature, sitting in Jackson – and some Democrats, struggle with these numbers and look for solutions, one has been to focus resources and try new ideas, including a turn to appointed judges and prosecutors – instead of elected, for this Jackson district.

Will it work? Is this the right place to begin? Is appointing judges – by the Supreme Court – racist? That is yet to be determined, but is there a problem? Yes.

Putting aside the specifics of Jackson, how are judges traditionally chosen – in Mississippi and America? Answer is, elected and appointed, with appointments by various means, legislature, governor, court.

In Mississippi, the tradition exists to have all judges elected. While this is not necessarily more insulated from politics – indeed, one could argue elections are more political than appointments – it has been the practice.

The real problem now is that what has been used is not working, as candid Democrats know. So, what is to be done? If elected judges and prosecutors are not producing “rule of law,” what is left?

In Jackson – and across the country – as “rule of law” is put in jeopardy by anti “rule of law” violence, ambushes and shootings of police, low morale, recruitment and retention, other ideas are surfacing.  Appointing judges and prosecutors is one – for Jackson, Mississippi.

Bottom line: Jackson, Mississippi is in a state of social, political, legal, and demographic jeopardy. What has been tried – is failing, miserably. People know it. A turn to appointing judges and prosecutors, whether for one district or an entire city may be a reasonable step toward reclaiming public safety.

The problem really is that unhappiness with social, political, and legal circumstances – anywhere at any time for any reason – too often turns into finger pointing, blame casting, and mutual recrimination. Admiring the problem, blaming it on someone else, crying racism is easier than fixing it.

In Jackson, and across the nation, the most urgent problem facing America is probably not racism, but something simpler. Political actors and the media have decided blaming others is the way to go. Late bulletin: That road leads down. The high road leads up. Talk facts, use logic. Judicial appointments may work. Trying them is not inherently racist. Defaulting to racist cross-allegations gets us nowhere.

Robert Charles is a former Assistant Secretary of State under Colin Powell, former Reagan and Bush 41 White House staffer, attorney, and naval intelligence officer (USNR). He wrote “Narcotics and Terrorism” (2003), “Eagles and Evergreens” (2018), and is National Spokesman for AMAC.

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