Court Rules Jackson State Cannot Justify Law School
A federal judge overseeing Mississippi’s long-running college desegregation suit says historically Black Jackson State University cannot justify the need for a new law school.
The ruling, by U.S. District Judge Neal Biggers Jr., comes as parties continue settlement talks in the case.
The law school, which would be the third in the state, had been a bargaining point in the plaintiffs’ $800 million settlement proposal.
“The feeling is that (Black) people are under-served by the two law schools,” says State Sen. Hillman Frazier, D-Jackson.
The University of Mississippi operates the state’s only public law school in Oxford. Mississippi College, a Clinton-based private institution, maintains a law school in downtown Jackson.
The Mississippi College law school enrollment trends “indicate that the demand for legal education in the Jackson area is satisfied and that a stable and continuing demand for a public law school at JSU does not exist,” Biggers wrote in a five-page ruling.
Biggers also said enrollment data did not warrant expansion of the Ole Miss law school to Jackson to increase White enrollment at Jackson State University. He says that the Ole Miss law school has promoted diversity, and that minority enrollment and applications has increased in recent years.
Black enrollment at the Ole Miss law school and at Mississippi College is about 10 percent, reports show.
Jackson lawyer Reuben Anderson, who is part of a team of lawyers for the state, would not comment on specifics in the judge’s new order.
Officials have projected $54 million in cuts for the state’s eight public universities next fiscal year and more cuts coming this year.
College Board members have said they weighed the state’s financial crunch in producing a settlement plan of $400 million, which includes the $83 million already spent on Ayers remedies.
Mississippi was accused in a 1975 lawsuit, known as the Ayers case for plaintiff Jake Ayers Sr., of running a segregated college system and neglecting Black universities.
The U.S. Supreme Court ordered Mississippi in 1992 to abolish segregation at its eight universities. The state has spent $83 million since 1995 for improvements at its three historically Black schools — Jackson State, Alcorn State and Mississippi Valley State universities.
College Board members have argued there’s no need for a JSU law school after accepting recommendations from consultants in 1998. Officials say a new law school could cost at least $25 million.
Supporters of a Jackson State law school point out that only 5 percent of Mississippi’s lawyers are Black in a state with a 37 percent Black population. They say a JSU law school would help Mississippi boost its number of African American lawyers.
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