Last week the Mississippi Supreme Court issued decisions in two cases that will allow voters in the November elections to decide issues related to abortions and eminent domain.The Court basically punted on the substantive issues and decided the cases on procedural grounds.
In Hughes v. Hoseman the plaintiffs challenged Measure 26, which asks voters to decide whether life begins at conception. Cliff Johnson and Rob McDuff of North Congress Street in Jackson represented the plaintiffs.
The Court determined that the dispute is not ripe for adjudication, since the amendment has not passed yet. The decision contradicts a 2000 Miss. Supreme Court decision that ruled that the Court does have the authority to review the constitutionality of proposed initiatives. Neither side raised the ripeness issue.
In Speed v. Hoseman, the plaintiff challenged the State’s ability to take and transfer private property through eminent domain. Here is the Court’s 7–2 opinion. Justice Lamar wrote the majority opinion. As in the personhood case, the Court dismissed the case on ripeness grounds.
I thought David Hampton’s analysis in the Clarion-Ledger was good:
It is disappointing that the state Supreme Court is allowing the referendums on eminent domain and the so-called “personhood” amendments to proceed on the Nov. 8 ballot. There clearly are legal issues with both, but the court basically punted and said the election should be held before any further consideration. The court said it was not known if the amendments would be rejected, so it would be premature. News flash. As flawed and potentially harmful as both of these amendments are, they will be overwhelmingly approved. The move to restrict eminent domain appeals, wrongly so, to property rights beliefs and the personhood amendment is a thinly veiled referendum on abortion. They have strong public support. They, along with the initiative to require voter ID, however, mostly are politically motivated efforts to appeal to voters passionate about those issues and bring voter turnout, which Republicans see as beneficial to the GOP. The Supreme Court will be seeing these again. The fact that we have an elected Supreme Court most likely played a role here. It would have been very politically unpopular for the judges to block the election. That’s too bad. These initiatives should not be on the ballot.
In all likelihood, the Court’s decision simply delays its having to rule on these politically sensitive issues. I prefer an appointed judiciary so that observers don’t view “an elected Supreme Court” as being a factor in decisions.
Finally, these opinions are more evidence that the principle of stare decisis is not strong in Mississippi—at least not currently.