OPINION: Why did the Mississippi Supreme Court water down the transparency rule?

“Transparency in government is essential to its integrity. ”

This has been perhaps Phil Bryant’s most iconic statement as a politician. You see, transparency lets light into the often dark corners of government, exposing decisions and actions to the public, and not all politicians welcome that light.

Bryant said these words on May 22, 2012, when he signed Bill 211, the “Sunshine Act,” governing the hiring of outside legal counsel by state agencies.

Moving towards transparency and integrity has been a long struggle in Mississippi. Public meetings act to ensure “that public affairs are conducted in an open and public manner” became law in 1976 after years of struggle. Many government agencies are still trying to avoid this light.

In 1979, Lieutenant Governor Evelyn Gandy passed the law establishing the State Ethics Commission, but only because of the sensationalism of the Bill Burgin scandal.

The Public Archives Act granting public access to government archives became law in 1983.

While the amendments changed some transparency provisions, overall this trip led to increasing transparency within the Mississippi government.

So, it was surprising to read that the Mississippi Supreme Court could go in the opposite direction by weakening its Canon 5F Judicial Code of Conduct.

“Under recent changes made by a majority of the Mississippi Supreme Court, the public may receive less information about findings of unethical behavior in court campaigns,” Emily Wagster Pettus wrote for The Associated. Press.

Without explanation, a majority of the court reorganized the committee overseeing judicial election activities and restricted its ability to educate the public about campaign finance abuses. It further prohibited the committee from intervening in flagrant cases where the original committee was designed to intervene.

In an unusual move, Presiding Judge Leslie King wrote in strong dissent, stating: “Today the majority of the Court is lowering its expectations of the need for ethical conduct in judicial elections by candidates and by candidates. third, and she thumbs her nose at public rights. to wait and observe ethical judicial elections.

King noted that the revised committee is limited to giving advisory opinions and can no longer intervene by issuing cease and desist orders. Such ordinances have themselves been the subject of controversy.

He also pointed out that there had been no public comment period before the rule change was passed, abandoning the usual court practice.

It comes as third-party turnout and spending in non-partisan court elections has increased and a longtime Republican politician has been appointed director of the Courts Administration Office. A longtime judicial observer called it a Republican takeover.

Hmmm. The non-transparent nature of this decision arouses some skepticism.

Maybe the next time you see Judges Michael Randolph, Kenneth Griffis, Dawn Beam, Robert Chamberlin, David Ishee, and James Maxwell campaigning for re-election, you might ask them why they voted for it.

“Whoever does evil hates the light and will not enter into the light lest his deeds be revealed” – John 3:20.

Crawford is a syndicated Jackson columnist.

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