/November election could put two black justices on the Supreme Court for first time in Mississippi history

November election could put two black justices on the Supreme Court for first time in Mississippi history

Latrice Westbrooks of Lexington is one of two African Americans serving on the Court of Appeals. She will be challenging Kenny Griffis, a long-time Mississippi judge, for a seat on the Supreme Court, Central District of Mississippi. Although Griffis is more experienced in judicial work, Westbrooks is an impressive candidate. Westbrooks has been a successful attorney and won a race across the entire state for the second-highest court. In short, both candidates can tout qualifications. This race is unique because it offers the greatest opportunity in state history to have two black justices at the Supreme Court. Democratic and Republican governors have worked together since 1985 to ensure that at least one black Mississippian would sit on the Supreme Court. They all represent the same Central District position. Three districts are used to elect Supreme Court justices: three from each of the Northern, Southern, and Central districts. In 1985, Democrat Gov. Reuben Anderson, Hinds County Circuit Court Judge, was appointed by Bill Allain to fill the vacant seat. This made him the first African American to serve on the Supreme Court created by Mississippi’s 1890 Constitution. Anderson was later elected to the position before resigning in order to pursue private law practice. The Democratic governor was appointed at that time. Ray Mabus then appointed Fred Banks (a black jurist) to the seat. He was twice elected to the position before being reelected and being replaced by James Graves. James Graves was appointed by Democratic Gov. Ronnie Musgrove. Graves was also elected to the seat. However, he was then appointed to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is headed by President Barack Obama. Republican Gov. Haley Barbour appointed Leslie King to the court, where he remains the only African member. In the 35 years that four African Americans held the Central District seat, two other Central District seats were held by white Mississippians. Late 2018, Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr. quit his Central District seat to run for governor. He lost to Lt. Governor. Tate Reeves. Governor Tate Reeves was appointed to replace Waller. Phil Bryant appointed Griffis as chief judge of Court of Appeals. He previously served alongside Westbrooks. According to the 2010 Census, 51% of Central District’s African American population is eligible for voting. The same districts that the Supreme Court justices are also elected as transportation commissioners and public service commissioners. Recent Central District elections saw both Republicans and Democrats win. The Central District Transportation Commission seat was won by Willie Simmons, a Democrat and also an African American. In the same year, Brent Bailey, a Republican, was elected to the Public Service Commission of the Central District. He defeated De’Keither Stamps (an African American member on the Jackson City Council). It is expected that the Westbrooks-Griffis Supreme Court Election will be more competitive than other judicial contests. Both candidates are seeking support. Although candidates for judicial positions do not declare a party affiliation to their candidate, a large portion of the Republican establishment as well as the business community support Griffis. Griffis was first elected to Court of Appeals in 2000 to support changes to civil justice to give businesses more protection against lawsuits. State Sen. Jennifer Branning (R-Philadelphia) stated, “As a legislator, I know how important it to have justices at our Supreme Court that properly interpret and apply law without trying to legislate directly from the bench.” “That’s why Justice Griffis is my support. He’s a constitutional conservative and deserves our support based upon his record, character, and work ethic.” Naturally, many Democratic groups are backing Westbrooks as well as Vicksburg Mayor George Flaggs who is independent. Flaggs stated, “I have known her since a long time.” Flaggs stated that Westbrooks’ African American heritage is not the reason why he supports her. Flaggs stated that he would be thrilled to see another African American on the Supreme Court, especially a female. Flaggs said, “I believe that this would make great history in Mississippi. She is qualified to serve on the Supreme Court. And she is also a great person.” Dawn Beam of Sumrall, who is from the Southern District, is another African American serving on the Supreme Court. As with black justices there have only been four women justices in state history. Two of them, Ann Hannaford Lamar and Beam, served together briefly in 2016._x000D