Miss.S.Ct. reverses case involving title of education funding ballot initiative.

In June, the Court heard argument in Legislature of the State of Mississippi v. Adrian Shipman and the Attorney General’s Office which is a dispute over the title of a ballot initiative to amend Miss. Const. § 201 (1890).  Today, the Court reverses and renders. 

The Constitution now reads:

The Legislature shall, by general law, provide for the establishment, maintenance and support of free public schools upon such conditions and limitations as the Legislature may prescribe.

The amendment would change  § 201 to read:

To protect each child’s fundamental right to educational opportunity, the State shall provide for the establishment, maintenance and support of an adequate and efficient system of free public schools. The chancery courts of this State shall have the power to enforce this section with appropriate injunctive relief.

The issue here is the title of the amendment. The law allows the AG to give the initiative a title and AG Jim Hood chose “Should the State be required to provide for the support of an adequate and efficient system of free public schools?

During the 2015 session, the Legislature proposed an alternative (which it can do pursuant to § 23- 17-29):

 The Legislature shall, by general law, provide for the establishment, maintenance and support of an effective system of free public schools.

The Legislature entitled this proposal as “Shall the Legislature be required to provide for the establishment and support of an effective system of free public schools?”  AG Hood changed it to “Should the Legislature provide for the establishment and support of effective free public schools without judicial enforcement?”

A lawsuit was filed and the court accepted this title:  “Should the Legislature establish and support effective schools, but not provide a mechanism to enforce that right?”

The Legislature appealed and the Mississippi Supreme Court reverses and renders finding that the AG has the last word on the title of a ballot initiative.

Pursuant to the reasoning set forth above, the Court holds that Mississippi Code Section 23-17-13 does not authorize an appeal of the ballot title drafted by the Attorney General for an amendment to a measure adopted by the Legislature pursuant to Section 23- 17-31. The statutory definition of “measure,” which limits the term to those proposed amendments to the Constitution that arise from a petition of the electorate, binds the Court, and Section 23-17-13 limits itself to the appeal of measures. Furthermore, parts of Section 23-17-13 would be rendered without effect, i.e., the five-day time limit and the notice provision, and our rules of statutory construction caution against so construing any statute. Finally, no right to appeal is created by Section 23-17-33’s citation to Section 23-17-9. Because the Circuit Court of Hinds County heard the appeal without any jurisdiction to do so, we reverse its judgment and render judgment here, finally dismissing Shipman’s petition and the case for lack of circuit court jurisdiction. Because of the imminent deadline for preparation and distribution of the November 3 ballot and as authorized by Mississippi Rule of Appellate Procedure 2(c), a motion for rehearing is not authorized. The instant decision is final, and the Clerk of the Court is directed to issue the mandate in the case immediately.

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