Fifth Circuit hears pleadings in Jackson Airport takeover case
NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (WLBT) – City and state leaders are now waiting for the U.S. Fifth Circuit to render a decision in the Jackson airport takeover case.
Oral arguments were heard in the Fifth Circuit on Monday, with deliberations largely focusing on whether members of the Jackson Municipal Airport Authority have standing to bring a complaint.
Click here to hear the arguments.
There was also debate whether lawmakers should be required to provide a log of communications privileges related to airport takeover legislation.
The bill to remove and replace the JMAA was passed in 2016. It was signed by Gov. Phil Bryant.
That same year, a lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court to block the legislation.
The Fifth Circuit previously ruled that JMAA members lacked standing to bring a complaint under Count Seven of the original complaint.
However, in August 2020, District Judge Carlton Reeves ruled that the Commissioners could amend their complaint to establish their standing under the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.
The amended complaint states that the commissioners “exercise substantial power over the airport, which serves the state capital.” As a result of the takeover, the current members would lose not only their position on the board, but also their position in the community, as well as the per diems and travel opportunities that work offers them.
This decision was also appealed to the Fifth Circuit.
Austin Anderson, an attorney for JMAA, told the court that the legislature abolished JMMA, in part because of the race of the commissioners.
All of the council members are black, while the lawmakers who drafted the legislation are white and Republican.
âThe hurt felt by the commissioners here is personal. They are personally able to keep the daily allowances. They personally benefit from the educational and experiential opportunities that they get, because of their seats, âsaid Anderson.
A judge questioned Anderson’s claims that the argument was about the race of the commissioners, rather than the race of Jackson and his political leaders.
“I thought they were saying that because of the racial makeup of the city of Jackson, the JMAA commission or board was eliminated and transferred to another different decision-making body, not because of their own. race, âthe judge asked.
Anderson said lawmakers made this argument, but that “the argument is based on an extremely selective reading of the complaint.”
Paragraph 140 of the complaint states that members of the JMAA “will inevitably suffer real, concrete and particular harm if Senate Bill 2162 is allowed to come into force because Senate Bill 2162 abolishes the JMAA and thus puts end of their employment as commissioners on the basis of their race â.
Reeves authorized the addition of paragraph 140 to the complaint as part of his August 2020 order.
The judge then asked whether the daily allowance was a “personal injury”.
âIt’s an injury to the person … but to the office holder. I got a per diem as a judge … I don’t get it because of my, you know, because I’m just a great person, it’s because of my office.
âI understand what happened here. You changed the complaint because of what Stallworth said, âthe judge said. âThat’s what I would do too. What I’m trying to figure out is do the injuries that are now alleged in the amended complaint resolve the ongoing issue? “
Anderson said yes. “They are dismissed from their functions before the entry into force of the law and they serve as commissioners, after they no longer serve,” he said.
Michael Wallace, a lawyer for the eight lawmakers being sued, disagreed.
âHe read you a sentence that the board will be eliminated on the basis of race. But that’s after three pages of speeches about racism directed at the Jackson city government, the people of Jackson city. There is nothing in the complaint that says the legislature acted because the commissioners are black, âhe said.
Wallace went on to say that the board appointed to replace JMAA would still have five people appointed by Jackson.
âThere will be additional members from other parts of the region, but there are five jobs for every five people. There will never necessarily be an injury for anyone, âhe said. âUnless you can allege that there is someone using this bill to discriminate against you, you have no standing.
In 2162, the new Jackson Metropolitan Area Airport Authority would have a nine-member commission, with one member each appointed by Jackson’s mayor and city council.
âThere is no certainty as to who will be replaced and who will not be replaced. There are five seats for Jacksonians on the board today. There will be five board seats for them when it takes effect, âWallace said. “We have no idea who will occupy these seats.”
Wallace did not tell the court that members appointed by the governor and the lieutenant governor should have a pilot’s license or certification.
It was not known whether any current commissioners met these qualifications.
Meanwhile, the governor would have two appointees, both of whom would have to be from the city of Jackson, while the lieutenant governor would have one appointee, who would also have to reside in the city of Jackson.
By comparison, all members of JMAA are appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the council.
There was also debate whether lawmakers should provide a privilege log to discuss communications related to airport takeover legislation.
For years, city and airport officials have claimed the takeover was based on race. They sought emails and other correspondence from the authors of SB 2162 to substantiate these claims.
The district court ruled that all communications between lawmakers and third parties should be made public. However, correspondence between lawmakers and state officials could remain confidential but documented in a âprivilege journalâ.
Wallace argued that a previous decision of the United States Supreme Court had determined that an 1871 statute granting legislative privilege to Congress also extended to state legislatures, “however important the matter may be. “.
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