Hot Off the Press: Volume 39 of the Mississippi College Law Review, Issue 2: The Mississippi Edition

Written By: James “Bud” Sheppard

The Class of 2021 Law Review’s second publication is devoted to Mississippi scholars and emerging law affecting Mississippians. Volume 39 Issue 2 tackles education reform and ERISA claims practices, proposes updates to the Mississippi Criminal Code, shines a light on controversial state law, and addresses the sole Mississippi-derived case decided by the United States Supreme Court during the 2020 term.

Educating Mississippi by The Honorable James L. Robertson

Former Associate Justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court James Robertson opened the Mississippi Edition with his article appropriately titled “Educating Mississippi.” Justice Robertson dedicated his submission in memory of Roy D. Campbell, Jr., the long-time President of the Board of Trustees, Greenville Municipal Separate School District, who gave his all to preserve and promote public education in Mississippi. Justice Robertson is a graduate of Harvard Law School and has been a citizen of Mississippi since July 30, 1940. Justice Robertson expresses his appreciation for the competent and diligent assistance of James “Bud” Sheppard, Sonya Dickson, Seth Curren, Keeton Thach, Melanie Mitchell, and Mississippi College School of Law Professor Donald Campbell.

Justice Robertson’s article begins with an assessment of the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, which, with adjustments over time, still supplies the framework for the State’s program for public education. His article addresses funding sources, alternatives to public schools – including charter schools and homeschooling, religion in schools, racial desegregation, and LGBTQ issues. Justice Robertson provides a comprehensive review and projection for education in Mississippi from the perspective of a former interpreter of law at the State’s highest court. 

Fifteen Years Later – Did Unum Group Improve its ERISA Claims Handling Practices by Philip W. Thomas

Philip W. Thomas, long-time author of the Mississippi Litigation Review and Commentary Blog and attorney at Morgan & Morgan in Jackson, Mississippi, authored “Fifteen Years Later – Did Unum Group Improve its ERISA Claims Handling Practices?” In November 2004, Unum Life Insurance Company of America and related entities agreed to a Regulatory Settlement Agreement with state insurance regulators and the U.S. Department of Labor to address the Unum/Provident scandal. The scandal resulted from Unum engaging in a deliberate program of bad faith denial of meritorious benefit claims. Attorney Thomas’s article evaluates Unum’s conduct over the last sixteen years since the Regulatory Settlement Agreement. His article concludes that, if anything, Unum’s systemic pattern of biased claims administration accelerated after 2004. Attorney Thomas projects that Unum is unlikely to change its practices without legislative intervention on ERISA laws.  

Reforming the Mississippi Criminal Code Part III: Person-Endangering Crimes Against Habitation and Property: Arson, Burglary, Robbery and Related Crimes by Professor Judith J. Johnson

Professor of Law Judith Johnson continued her academic series advocating for change to the Mississippi criminal laws with her third article: “Reforming the Mississippi Criminal Code Part III: Person-Endangering Crimes Against Habitation and Property: Arson, Burglary, Robbery, and Related Crimes.” Professor Johnson thanks Class of 2021 Chief Executive Editor Benjiman Blakely for serving as her Research Assistant. Professor Johnson has chaired the Criminal Code Consulting Group, a committee charged with suggesting revisions to the penal code, since 1993. Current Committee members include Professor Judith J. Johnson (chair), Professor Matthew Steffey (reporter), Judge Donna Barnes, Judge John Emfinger, Greta Harris, Caryn Quilter, Professor Ronald J. Rychlak, Kathy Sones, Alison Steiner, Ed Snyder, and Gwynetta Tatum. The Committee hopes to present proposals covered in the series to the Mississippi legislature and recommend a comprehensive change to the laws to alleviate some of the problems with the current criminal laws. 

Professor Johnson’s first article, published in Volume 37, introduced the Committee’s process and explained two critical substantive areas of change: states of mind and criminal homicide. The second article, featured in Volume 38, addressed the most serious crimes against the person, other than criminal homicide, and explained the Committee’s recommendations regarding assault and battery and related crimes, kidnapping and related crimes, and sex crimes. In addition, this article covers crimes against habitation and property that involve danger to persons—arson, burglary, and robbery.

The Dormant Right to Plant-Based Food by James P. “Bud” Sheppard

Class of 2021 Editor-in-Chief Bud Sheppard evaluated the constitutionality of state laws restricting access to plant-based food in his article, “The Dormant Right to Plant-Based Food.” Bud’s comment tracks the Mississippi Food Labeling Law of 2020 as a guidepost for the twelve states that have adopted legislation restricting consumers’ plant-based food options. Constitutional Law Professor Mark Modak-Truran advised Bud in his exploration of federal preemption and the Dormant Commerce Clause. In his comment, Bud argues that states with food labeling laws have effectively banned plant-based food options and should expeditiously repeal the laws. Bud’s article proves it is counterintuitive and insufficient for states to balance unconstitutional food labeling laws with administrative regulations intended to blur the lines of progress, especially since the proposed legislation does not further a legitimate concern from the public. Bud advocates that instead of barring access to plant-based foods, states should encourage informing consumers. 

Deflowering Flowers v. Mississippi by Sonya Dickson

Sonya Dickson, Articles Editor and Class of 2021 graduate, wrote “Deflowering Flowers v. Mississippi,” an exposé on the United States Supreme Court’s review of Curtis Flowers’ death row case and the extraordinary facts from his six trials. Professor of Law Matt Steffey served as Sonya’s faculty advisor. The Supreme Court’s decision in Flowers v. Mississippi hinged on whether the State of Mississippi violated Curtis Flowers’ Fourteenth Amendment rights by excluding a prospective African American juror from the jury in his sixth trial. After two decades of Flowers being on death row, the Court reversed his conviction on the basis that the State’s exercise of a peremptory strike against a prospective African American juror was primarily motivated in part by discriminatory intent. Sonya’s article analyzes the holding of Flowers and the current standard for adjudicating claims of racial discrimination in jury selection.  

The final Volume 39 release post will share the Tribute Edition to Chief U.S. District Judge Sharion Aycock of the Northern District of Mississippi. Please consider reading Volume 39 of the Mississippi College Law Review in print or online. The Mississippi College Law Review Digital Commons provides online access to all publications. Bound copies of the journal are available for $50.00 per Volume. Volume 39 includes three Issues, all of which are ready for pick-up or delivery today! 

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