Judges ask review, say gun ruling weakens judiciary

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By: 
STEVE ROGERS
Staff Writer

Three judges argue the state Supreme Court ignored a 2016 state law, misread the intent of an order put down by three Golden Triangle judges banning guns in courthouses, violated the court’s own rules in considering the issue, and ignored federal laws on the subject and should reverse its ruling allowing people with enhanced concealed carry permits to carry their guns into a courthouse.

The issues were raised in a 15-page request to reconsider filed Wednesday by Chancery Court Judges Dorothy Colom, Kenneth Burns and Jim Davidson.

Furthermore, the Supreme Court’s June 7 ruling relegates the courts to second-class status rather than giving it the equal footing deserves with the Legislative and Administrative branches of government, the three judges argue in their request.

“The Judiciary, by this ruling, is relegated to just another state agency that is not a coequal branch and must go along with the Wildlife, Fisheries and Park Commission, employing a highly paid lobbyist every year, hat in hand, to grovel for it's budget. As a result, the job of the Chief Justice will become much more difficult. It is not what we envisioned when assuming the Bench in a Court of Law, not what the Constitution of this State and the United States provide, and surely not what the citizenry expects and deserves. We ask that this decision be reviewed and reversed for all the reasons given herein and that the Order be upheld,” argue the three, all of whom are retiring this year.

“It is our concern that this decision, unless revisited, will result in further damage to the Judiciary and render us neutered in being able to effectively meet our goals. Courts of Law are the last bastion for the public to resolve their disputes. They are by definition to be free of corruption, be able to enforce their own orders, be not politically motivated and provide fair and impartial results. If the public cannot depend on these important factors, while in a safe and secure environment, our system o f checks and balances and democracy will be forever diminished in this State and our orders will, in fact, be mere proclamations, for lack of a better word,” they continue.

“In our opinion, this decision will only serve to hasten the diminishing of the judicial branch. The Court missed a golden opportunity to establish once and for all the independence of the judiciary and its rightful place under the State's constitution,” Colom, Burns and Davidson concluded.

The judges opened the tempest when in 2011 they signed an order banning weapons from within 200 feet of courtrooms, which effectively banned them from the courthouse. Their order was in response to a law approved by the Legislature that greatly expanded where weapons could be carried.


A gun rights activist from Hattiesburg took the case to the Supreme Court resulting in the June 1 ruling. One of the issues raised by the judges in their request to reconsider is that the activist does not live in the counties they served and was not impacted by their order, which only applied to their judicial district, although other judges in some areas of the state followed their lead with orders of their own.

In its June 7 ruling, the Supreme Court said judges in the 14th Chancery District overstepped their authority because the Mississippi Constitution specifies that only the Legislature "may regulate or forbid carrying concealed weapons.

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The Legislature enacted a law in July 2011 saying people with enhanced concealed-carry licenses may take guns into courthouses but not into courtrooms.
In November 2011, judges in the 14th Chancery District, which includes Clay, Chickasaw, Oktibbeha, Lowndes, Noxubee and Webster counties, issued an order banning anyone other than law enforcement officers from having concealed guns in and around all parts of courthouses.


When enhanced concealed-carry permit holder Ricky Ward challenged the ban, the judges argued courthouses can be places of high emotion, with people going there for divorces and child custody cases.

They maintained it is reasonable to view hallways and other areas as an extension of a courtroom and that it is "ludicrous to assume that people in heightened states of emotional upheaval would pause to decide where in the building they can be mad and where they cannot."


In a dissenting opinion, Justice Leslie B. King wrote the state's Constitution specifies the administration of justice is only a function of the judicial branch.


"That function and that obligation both extend beyond the four walls of the courtroom," King wrote.


While other justices found the chancery judges violated the separation of powers between the judicial and legislative branches, King found legislators had done so by enacting a law that allows concealed weapons in most parts of courthouses.

In their appeal Wednesday, the three local judges cited King’s interpretation as the accurate one.

They noted the Legislature interfered with sheriffs’ abilities to do their jobs and provide security for courthouses when legislators approved a law making sheriffs personally liable for gun-rights violations.

The three even take the Supreme Court to task for some of the language used in its ruling.

“The comparison of our Order to a ‘proclamation’ is totally inaccurate and demeaning, not only to any Court, but to us personally. Further, it is not befitting of our highest Court, whom we have always looked to for wisdom and guidance, to place into a public record, for posterity, such a gratuitous statement, without foundation, which belittles a constitutionally created Court and its sworn elected judges. We have already been abused in social media by the Petitioner's supporters and have rightfully refrained from any public response or opportunity to explain our reasoning, even though we are Defendants in this litigation and not in our role as Judges,” the three state in some of the harshest wording in a sometimes pointed appeal.

“It is especially disconcerting to have this additional public scorn placed upon us by our fellow Jurists with whom we have worked and fellowshipped for years. The Judiciary is under increasing pressure nationwide, and we work daily to rise above the fray to maintain decorum and the efficient administration of justice. To have such a statement rendered in a public forum undermines the very Judiciary that we seek to protect,” they state.

If the Supreme Court won’t review or reverse its ruling, the three judges at least ask the justices to stay its implementation.

“Due to the effect of this ruling on the future of the Judiciary, we respectfully request that this Court, if it chooses not to grant this motion, at the very minimum stay its mandate. This will allow the most affected parties, the trial courts, county governments, county and city Jaw enforcement, and the Mississippi Legislature and, not to mention, the general public, to reach a workable solution that will be compatible with this mandate and the concerns expressed throughout this proceeding,” they argue.

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