Obama administration attorney general joins legal team challenging Miss. House Bill 1020

Former Obama-era U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is joining the legal team challenging Mississippi's controversial House Bill 1020, which creates an unelected state-appointed court system and adds unelected state-appointed judges to the current Hinds County court system, among other components.

Holder was the first Black person to serve as the nation's chief law enforcement officer, holding that role from 2009 to 2015 under President Barack Obama before rejoining the firm Covington and Burling.

Holder recently represented the two Black Democratic lawmakers that in April were expelled from the Tennessee House of Representatives. He also chairs the National Democratic Redistricting Committee.

Holder, who is admitted to the District of Columbia Bar, was admitted to the case pro hac vice Tuesday by federal Magistrate Judge LaKeysha Greer Isaac, after a motion to admit him was submitted last week. A letter from the DC Bar was also submitted certifying that Holder remains an active member in good standing.

Holder joins a legal team representing the NAACP, the Mississippi State Conference of the NAACP, the Jackson City Branch of the NAACP and six individual plaintiffs who are Hinds County residents. Mississippi-based Civil Rights attorney Carroll Rhodes filed the motion to admit Holder. Rhodes was the primary legal counsel to argue before U.S. District Judge for the Southern District of Mississippi Henry Wingate last week that HB 1020 violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.

U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate, shown in this Aug. 19, 2022 photograph taken in Jackson, Miss.
U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate, shown in this Aug. 19, 2022 photograph taken in Jackson, Miss.

The plaintiffs secured an extended restraining order from Wingate, blocking aspects of the statute from taking effect, including those allowing Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Randolph to begin making appointments.

Wingate is expected next to decide on whether Randolph should continue to be named directly in the lawsuit, or whether he can exercise judicial immunity in this case. Attorneys for the chief justice have argued that allowing him to be sued could set a dangerous precedent, and they have said that he cannot take a position on HB 1020 because it may soon come before his court in a separate state-law based challenge. Randolph was removed from that state lawsuit.

Once Wingate decides on Randolph's inclusion, he has said he plans to give both the plaintiffs' legal team and the one for the state attorney general, who are defending the constitutionality of the law, time to file arguments. There will then be a hearing for oral arguments, during which Wingate said he may issue a quick bench opinion.

With the timeline agreed to by Wingate and the attorneys, a full resolution in the federal challenge to HB 1020 could come as early as mid-June.

This article originally appeared on Mississippi Clarion Ledger: Former Attorney General Eric Holder joins federal MS HB 1020 challenge