Late yesterday afternoon, the Mississippi Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice William Waller delivered a brief unanimous one page decision overturning Judge Kidd’s temporary restraining order against Philip Gunn.
Though the decision wasn’t showy, given how quickly and overwhelmingly the decision was delivered, this is what is commonly known, in lawblog parlance, as a benchslap.
For those that want to geek out on “bill reading” constitutionality, there was a decision in 2001 styled Tuck v. Blackmon, where an almost identical set of circumstances arose. The Supreme Court in that instance was pretty forceful about how it felt on that point.
The House (and Senate for that matter) computer can now resume lap speed racing.
Legislators run to activist court to intervene in procedural spat
Yesterday was an interesting day in the Mississippi Legislature. House and Senate Democrats publicly and repeatedly admitted their inability to read and requested that party leaders read bills aloud to them.
Of course, I’m joking. But I made you think for a minute. It’s really just a stalling tactic simply meant to be obstinate in the face of not winning at the ballot box.
The stalling tactic included the use, for the first time in the State Senate, of an automated reader. The House has actually used that machine for a while. Just think about the voice that announces severe thunderstorm warnings on the Emergency Broadcast System reading a 20 page appropriations bill. That happened approximately 40 times on the Senate floor yesterday, primarily because Senators Debbie Dawkins and Barbara Blackmon insisted on the stalling tactic to protest whatever issue in life they had. They’d say things like, “Mr. President, I didn’t get a chance to read this bill – can you have it read aloud?” Although the calendar is published and all of the bills are right there on the interwebs and in print if they go down to the clerk’s office.
Of course, to have humans read the bill is really a personal abuse of hardworking legislative staff. Those in the current Democratic minority don’t seem to care much. But the Republican leadership in both houses employed the computerized technology to respect the wishes and rights of the minority but to not punish staff members by doing something ridiculous over and over again. And of course, this foolishness only happens on or around a deadline day in the Capitol.
Late yesterday, on the House side, freshman Democrat Rep. Jay Hughes (who recently ran for Minority leader – a job no one wanted – and he still lost) decided that the machine was reading the bills too fast. To be fair, the bills that are machine read are sped up. When everyone is being honest, this is only a delay tactic, so cutting the delay in half by speeding up the automated bill reading is not changing the intent – it’s just speeding up the inevitable. So Rep. Hughes went to go see Winston Kidd at the
Chancery Circuit Court yesterday and got himself a restraining order. The order said that the bills have to be read at “normal speed”. There’s a hearing on the issue on Monday.
There are two salient issues that this spat has brought up.
First, this is a precise glimpse of how Initiative 42 would have gone down. Finding an activist judge that was only too willing to wade headlong into a political spat underscores Mississippians wisdom in rejecting that constitutional amendment. Kidd could have just as easily scheduled an emergency hearing without issuing the TRO. He didn’t. Again, the dark forces behind Initiative 42 were absolutely banking on this kind of hand-in-glove cooperation between legislators in the numerical minority and local activist judges.
Second, this is a real opportunity for the leadership (Reeves and Gunn) to break the will of the minority to act childishly. My sense is that both are hesitant to do it the way I would. But they both control the chair. They should be calling in folks this Saturday morning at 6:00 a.m. for an all/day-all/night session. Slow the machine down. Let ’em read every bill at normal speed. Bring sleeping bags, order in pizza and if you need to go to the can you need to wait for a long bill. Literally make the minority beg to stop. The worst thing you can give someone is exactly what they’ve asked for. If they want the bills read, they can sit their butts up there on the weekend and till midnight and have all the bills read they want. Waiting for deadline day to let this foolishness pop up like a brush fire is not the way to go.
Elections have consequences. We just had one five months ago.