At 10:00 last night, Carlton Reeves entered an order in NAACP vs. Barbour/Hood – Mississippi’s federal redistricting case in which he, like his predecessor on the case Judge Dan Jordan, recused himself. Citing his lifetime membership with the NAACP, he stated that the appearance of impartiality might reasonably be questioned by objective observers.
From his order
However, out of an abundance of concern, the Court has reviewed a broad range of
authority on the question of whether disqualification is appropriate under the circumstances
herein detailed. The great bulk of that authority suggests that such a step is not necessary. . . .
Still, although courts are vested with broad discretion in these matters, this Court cannot
hold with absolute certainty that an objective observer might not reasonably question the
impartiality of its substantive decisions, based on the undersigned judge’s association with the
NAACP. For this reason alone, fidelity requires disqualification.
This recusal is a political (not necessarily legal) game changer. First of all, I thought we’d see recusal within a day of when the case was assigned to Reeves given his prior involvement with redistricting for Democrats and his heavy involvement in the NAACP.
When Reeves was assigned the case, Senate Republicans tunes started to change about holding the line against the House plan. They began to get squishy on their prior votes to hold the line against the Senate plan thinking that Reeves would push the case more favorably towards Democrats. I think Democrats thought the same thing as Speaker Billy McCoy’s last ditch effort to cram down his house plan again at the end of the session. A political cynic would question the timing of the recusal (after legislative sine die) because there was nothing in Reeves’s order that cited any change of circumstance since the day he received the case that would merit recusal. Meanwhile, there have been a slew of procedural issues pressed in that case.
I supported Carlton Reeves confirmation for federal judge. He is beyond smart and I think he came to what is the right decision and should be applauded for it. I think this decision will serve his future reputation as a fair jurist.
As for the political considerations, it’s a whole new ballgame. Whether or not a future judge or panel of judges pushes the Legislature to fix this in a special session is still up for conjecture. If so, Governor Haley Barbour will (again) hold the cards and would likely not call a special session until he was convinced that there was an agreement on the table that he could live with.
Now Tom Lee will preside over the case and Mike Parker has been assigned as Magistrate.
One thing’s for sure . . . this is a huge deal. It will be interesting to see how the Mississippi press establishment covers it.