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Ward v. Colom

Supreme Court of Mississippi, En Banc

June 7, 2018

RICKY W. WARD
v.
DOROTHY WINSTON COLOM

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 11/18/2011

          LOWNDES COUNTY CHANCERY COURT HON. DOROTHY WINSTON COLOM HON. KENNETH M. BURNS HON. H. J. DAVIDSON, JR. TRIAL JUDGES

          ATTORNEY FOR PETITIONER: THOMAS E. PAYNE.

          FOR RESPONDENTS: DOROTHY WINSTON COLOM KENNETH M. BURNS.

          RANDOLPH, PRESIDING JUSTICE.

         ¶1. In 2011, the Mississippi Legislature amended Mississippi Code Section 97-37-7, granting enhanced concealed-carry licensees the privilege of carrying a concealed firearm in the courthouses of this state, save for courtrooms, which the Legislature left within the province of judges.[1] Litigants, witnesses, and family members who do not have enhanced concealed-carry licenses are subject to the general ban found in Mississippi Code Section 97-37-1 (Rev. 2014), which makes carrying a concealed weapon illegal for persons without enhanced concealed-carry licenses. Nonetheless, the three chancellors of the Fourteenth Chancery District, on their own motion, issued a court order prohibiting enhanced concealed-carry licensees from possessing a firearm in and around courthouse buildings of the Fourteenth District.

         ¶2. Thereafter, Ricky Ward, an enhanced concealed-carry licensee, filed a petition to modify or dismiss the order. The chancellors issued another order denying Ward's petition and reiterated that enhanced concealed-carry licensees would be prohibited from possessing a firearm in all Fourteenth District courthouses. Ward then filed an Extraordinary Writ of Prohibition in this Court, seeking to have the orders vacated as unconstitutional and in direct conflict with state law.

         ¶3. This Court ordered additional briefing, requesting the parties to address the following issues:

(1) What is the authority of judges to exercise control over security issues beyond the four walls of the courtroom itself?
(2) Whether the judiciary has the inherent authority to exercise control of security extending beyond the four walls of a courtroom.
(3) Whether Mississippi Code Section 97-37-7(2) prohibits judges from controlling courthouse security. Specifically, what is the definition of "courtrooms during a judicial proceeding, " and does that definition either allow or prohibit judges from exercising control of security beyond the four walls of a specific courtroom while court is in session?
(4) If Mississippi Code Section 97-37-7(2) does prohibit judges from exercising control over courthouse security, whether it violates the separation of powers doctrine.

         ¶4. The Attorney General, National Rifle Association, Attorney Virgil Gillespie, and Chancellor James Persons[2] also filed briefs.

         ¶5. Having considered the law and arguments offered by the aforementioned, the Court finds that the orders are facially unconstitutional. Furthermore, the orders defy existing Mississippi statutory and caselaw. Accordingly, the orders are vacated. They are nullius juris-of no legal force.[3]

         I. The orders defy the Mississippi Constitution.

         ¶6. Article 1, Sections 1 and 2 of the Mississippi Constitution establish clear lines of demarcation among the three branches of government. Section 1 establishes that the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of our state government are separate and coequal: "The powers of the government of the State of Mississippi shall be divided into three distinct departments, and each of them confided to a separate magistracy, to-wit: those which are legislative to one, those which are judicial to another, and those which are executive to another." Section 2 provides that no person belonging to one of those departments "shall exercise any power properly belonging to either of the others." In other words, when the executive branch or legislative branch has been properly delegated a power, the judiciary is without authority to assume that power.

         ¶7. One of the clearest delegations of legislative power in our Constitution is found in Article 3, Section 12. It provides: "The right of every citizen to keep and bear arms in defense of his home, person, or property, or in aid of the civil power when thereto legally summoned, shall not be called in question, but the Legislature may regulate or forbid carrying concealed weapons." (Emphasis added.) Without equivocation, the Legislature is the branch of government that the citizens of Mississippi chose to regulate or forbid concealed weapons.

         ¶8. A plain reading of these provisions in our Constitution renders the orders unconstitutional on their face, for "no set of circumstances exists under which the [orders] would be valid." U.S. v. Salerno, 481 U.S. 739, 745, 107 S.Ct. 2095, 2100, 95 L.Ed.2d 697 (1987). "[T]he key to a successful facial challenge . . . is whether [the orders], as [they are] currently written, could never be constitutionally applied and valid." Crook v. City of Madison, 168 So.3d 930, 942 (Miss. 2015) (Coleman, J., dissenting) (emphasis in original). Applying this standard to the present case, the chancellors' orders, as they currently are written, could never be constitutional. The Mississippi Constitution vests only the Legislature with the authority to regulate or forbid carrying concealed weapons. The orders at issue usurp that power.

         ¶9. Notwithstanding the clarity of our Constitution and the statute, the chancellors urge this Court to approve their actions as an "inherent power, " despite the orders reaching beyond the Constitution. The chancellors cite Newell v. State, 308 So.2d 71, 72 (Miss. 1975), and Hosford v. State, 525 So.2d 789 (Miss. 1988).

         ¶10. While Newell establishes Mississippi courts' "inherent power, " it clearly holds such power is limited by the Constitution and separation-of-powers doctrine. See Newell, 308 So.2d at 76-77 (holding the Court's inherent powers emanate from the separation-of-powers doctrine in the Constitution, but also holding that "[t]he phrase 'judicial power' in [S]ection 144 of the Constitution includes the power to make rules of practice and procedure, not inconsistent with the Constitution . . . .") (emphasis added). A review of the Mississippi Constitution, the Code, and caselaw reveals that judges do not have "inherent power" to control security beyond their courtrooms or to regulate concealed weapons outside their courtrooms. These powers are nonexistent, for there simply is no language in our Constitution that grants courts such power, and "this Court must declare the Mississippi Constitution as it is written . . . ." In Re Hooker, 87 So.3d 401, 423 (Miss. 2012) (Randolph, P.J., dissenting). Turning to the separation-of-powers doctrine, the Constitution specifically vests the Legislature with authority to regulate concealed weapons. The judicial branch therefore is without constitutional authority to exercise that power, for it properly belongs to the Legislature, as mandated by our Constitution. Miss. Const. art. 1, § 2.

         ¶11. The chancellors next argue that Hosford provides validity to the orders. Hosford, 525 So.2d at 789. In Hosford, a trial judge petitioned this Court for direction regarding how to handle external noise affecting trial court proceedings. Id. at 797. Examining the Constitution and state law, this Court held that it is the statutory duty of boards of supervisors and the sheriff to provide adequate court facilities and security for each county. Id. The Hosford Court held that if, and only if, either the board of supervisors, sheriff, or the Legislature fail in their constitutional and statutory obligations to enable the judicial branch to operate, then, and only then, can "the Judicial branch [have] the authority as well as the duty to see that courts do not atrophy." Hosford, 525 So.2d at 798. The record reveals that no such claim has been advanced in this case.

         ¶12. In a unanimous[4] opinion penned just three years ago by this Court, we expressly rejected a similar attempt by a circuit judge. Lewis v. Hinds Cty. Circuit Court, 158 So.3d 1117, 1119 (Miss. 2015). In Lewis, this Court was presented with a dispute between the Hinds County Sheriff and the Hinds County Circuit Court that arose from another local court order, which attempted to prescribe several requirements on the sheriff, sheriff's deputies, and bailiffs by which to abide in carrying out their statutory duties. Id. at 1125-26. The Hinds County order contained sections which addressed the hours, uniform, discipline, and duties of bailiffs, inter alia. Id. One section of the order stated that "the sheriff must establish a discipline for the security and maintenance of the court that must be approved by the court . . . ." Id. at 1125 (emphasis added). Applying the aforementioned constitutional separation-of-powers principles, this Court held that, under Article 5, Section 135 of the Mississippi Constitution, "[t]he sheriff is a member of the executive branch of government, " and is '"the executive officer of the circuit and chancery court of his county."' Id. at 1124 (citing multiple authorities). We further held that, under Mississippi Code Section 19-25-69 (Rev. 2012), "the Legislature has given the sheriff the duties of protecting the courthouse." Id. at 1123. Because the order required judges to approve security measures-a statutory duty of the executive branch-this Court found that section "to be void in full" because it completely contradicted statutory law. Id. at 1126.

         ¶13. Lewis established that the judiciary is without "inherent power" to exercise control of security extending beyond the courtroom, as '"[n]o . . . governmental official[] can exercise power beyond their constitutional authority."' Id. at 1124-25 (quoting Barbour v. State ex rel. Hood, 974 So.2d 232, 239 (Miss. 2008)) (citations omitted). By striking the aforementioned section of the Hinds County order, this Court held that the judiciary's authority to control security begins and ends at the courtroom door. Any attempt by the judiciary to assume or exercise control over the statutory responsibilities of the executive branch is void.

         II. The orders defy statutory law.

         ¶14. Pursuant to its constitutional authority, the Legislature amended Mississippi Code Section 97-37-7(2) authorizing certain categories of people, [5] including enhanced concealed-carry licensees, to carry a concealed pistol in courthouses[6] except in courtrooms[7] during a judicial proceeding, so long as they also (1) meet specific requirements under Mississippi Code Section 45-9-101 (Rev. 2015)[8] and (2) have voluntarily completed an instructional course in the safe handling and use of firearms. Miss. Code Ann. § 97-37-7(2) (Rev. 2014).[9]The statute specifically exempts "courtrooms during a judicial proceeding, " and further states that "[t]his section shall in no way interfere with the right of a trial judge to restrict the carrying of firearms in the courtroom." Id. (emphasis added).

         ¶15. "In considering a statute passed by the Legislature, . . . the first question a court should decide is whether the statute is ambiguous. If it is not ambiguous, the court should simply apply the statute according to its plain meaning and should not use principles of statutory construction." Barbour, 974 So.2d at 240 (internal citations omitted) (quoting Miss. Dep't of Transp. v. Allred, 928 So.2d 152, 154 (Miss. 2006)) (citation omitted). In deciding the first question, as we must, there is simply no ambiguity in Section 97-37-7: enhanced concealed-carry licensees may possess a concealed weapon in a courthouse, except in courtrooms, which the Legislature left within the province of judges.

         ¶16. Courts must enforce the law "unless it appears beyond all reasonable doubt to violate the Constitution." Tunica Cty. v. Town of Tunica, 227 So.3d 1007, 1015 (Miss. 2017) (quoting Pathfinder Coach Div. of Superior Coach Corp. v. Cottrell, 216 Miss. 358, 62 So.2d 383, 385 (Miss. 1953)) (emphasis in original). The parties have failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mississippi Code Section 97-37-7 is unconstitutional. Id. The "inherent power" of Mississippi courts, which is limited by our Constitution, lends no support to the dissenting justices' opinions that the statute is unconstitutional. See Newell, 308 So.2d at 76-77; see also Spec. Conc. ¶ 22 (Maxwell, J.). Thus, we are duty-bound to enforce the law as written. Applying a plain reading of Section 97-37-7 to the orders at issue, the chancellors effectively repealed a statute as applied to the seven courthouses of the Fourteenth Judicial District, which is, ipso facto, a violation of Mississippi law. See Lewis, 158 So.3d at 1125 ("[C]ourt[s] may not issue orders that contradict statutory law. . . .")

         III. Conclusion

         ¶17. The chancellors may have good and noble intentions, and their concerns are well-founded. However, their personal fears and opinions do not trump, and cannot negate, constitutional guarantees. The ultimate outcome of today's issue is reserved for the Legislature, not to be commandeered by unilateral local judicial proclamations. Courts must give more than lip service to the rule of law; they must insist upon its lawful application. Judges cannot allow their sense of superior knowledge, perceptions, or understandings to justify open defiance of the very laws that they are called upon to uphold. Indeed, we have held repeatedly that courts are guardians of the Constitution, [10] not guardians of the courthouse. Without question, the orders defy existing law and seek to exercise a power that plainly is reserved for the other branches of government. The orders contain no authority to suggest otherwise. The law of Mississippi is clear: enhanced-carry licensees are permitted to possess a firearm in courthouses. No matter how well-intentioned, judges are without the power to limit enhanced concealed-carry licensees' right to carry a firearm beyond courtrooms in the State of Mississippi. The orders are vacated.

         ¶18. VACATED.

          COLEMAN, MAXWELL, CHAMBERLIN AND ISHEE, JJ., CONCUR. MAXWELL, J., SPECIALLY CONCURS WITH SEPARATE WRITTEN OPINION JOINED BY RANDOLPH, P.J., COLEMAN, CHAMBERLIN AND ISHEE, JJ. CHAMBERLIN, J., SPECIALLY CONCURS WITH SEPARATE WRITTEN OPINION JOINED BY RANDOLPH, P.J., MAXWELL AND ISHEE, JJ.; WALLER, C.J., AND BEAM, J., JOIN IN PART. WALLER, C.J., CONCURS IN PART AND DISSENTS IN PART WITH SEPARATE WRITTEN OPINION JOINED BY BEAM, J. BEAM, J., CONCURS IN PART AND DISSENTS IN PART WITH SEPARATE WRITTEN OPINION JOINED BY WALLER, C.J. KING, J., DISSENTS WITH SEPARATE WRITTEN OPINION JOINED BY KITCHENS, P.J.; WALLER, C.J., AND BEAM, J., JOIN IN PART.

          MAXWELL, JUSTICE, SPECIALLY CONCURRING:

         ¶19. I agree with the majority that, while certainly well-meaning, the chancellors' orders prohibiting enhanced concealed-carry licensees from possessing firearms in courthouses of the Fourteenth District are overly broad and facially unconstitutional as applied. Thus, we have no option but to vacate them.

         ¶20. Article 3, Section 12 of Mississippi's Constitution is crystal clear. Its text expressly delegates to the Legislature the authority to regulate concealed weapons:

The right of every citizen to keep and bear arms in defense of his home, person, or property, or in aid of the civil power when thereto legally summoned, shall not be called in question, but the Legislature may regulate or forbid carrying concealed weapons.

Miss. Const. art. 3, § 12 (emphasis added).

         ¶21. Whether by wisdom or folly, Mississippi's Legislature has exercised its express constitutional power to authorize a small class of concealed-carry licensees to possess firearms in non-courtroom areas of courthouses. While I understand and share some of the chancellors' concerns, neither my own personal observations or experiences, nor those of others, trump express constitutional authority.

         ¶22. I do, however, emphasize that our judiciary has inherent constitutional authority to secure its courtrooms. But the orders here broadly apply to non-judicial hallways, rooms, and offices located within the District's courthouses-areas that by no definition qualify as courtrooms. Further, to the extent the dissenting justices rely on inherent-authority cases from other jurisdictions, they fail to acknowledge a glaring difference between the constitutions of those states and Mississippi's. That prominent distinction is that not one of the cited states has a constitutional provision like Mississippi's-a constitutional provision that expressly authorizes the Legislature to regulate the concealed carry of firearms.

          CHAMBERLIN, JUSTICE, SPECIALLY CONCURRING:

         ¶23. I agree with the analysis of the majority and its ultimate holding that the Mississippi Constitution and the doctrine of separation of powers require nullification of the orders in question. However, as the Legislature clearly recognized, judges are in control of their courtrooms. Courtrooms (while in session) are specifically excluded from the legislation.

         ¶24. A courtroom is not always an easily defined structure. Judges must have discretion in defining the courtroom (i.e., judges' chambers, witness rooms, jury rooms, etc.). Further, the design of some courthouses may still require jurors to exit the main courtroom and travel through a public hallway to the jury room. The same applies to witness rooms. A judge certainly has the right to deem these areas to be part of the courtroom while court is in session.

         ¶25. Though not specifically before us, as set forth in Hosford, judges may have the authority to step outside of the courtroom limitation where the facts of a specific case so warrant. Hosford v. State, 525 So.2d 789, 797-98 (Miss. 1988). This might include issues such as gang-related trials or highly emotional circumstances such as those involving crimes against children. This is allowed only upon specific findings of such exigent circumstances.

         ¶26. However, the orders at issue today are merely blanket orders that overstep the authority of the judges and attempt to negate the constitutionally backed legislation. Remote hallways and nonjudicial offices certainly are not ...


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