Mississippi District Attorney Scott Colom has built a name for himself as a “progressive” prosecutor, frequently writing and advocating for changes in the justice system. Colom has now been tapped for a vacancy on the federal bench in Mississippi.
A native of Columbus, Mississippi, Colom was born on December 25, 1983. He graduated from Millsaps College in 2005 and from the University of Wisconsin Law School in 2009. He subsequently spent two years as a staff lawyer for the Mississippi Center for Justice before joining Colom & Colom in private practice.
While maintaining his private practice, Colom also served as a city and municipal court judge as well as a part-time prosecutor in Columbus.
In 2015, Colom defeated 30-year-incumbent Forrest Allgood in a contentious race for district attorney for the 16th Judicial District of Mississippi, where Colom currently serves.
History of the Seat
Colom has been nominated for a vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi. This seat opened on November 1, 2021, when Judge Michael Mills took senior status. Colom was recommended to the White House in November 2021 by U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, the sole Democrat in Mississippi’s Congressional delegation.
Colom started his legal career at the Mississippi Center for Justice, a nonprofit law firm focused on racial justice issues and then spent five years in private practice. Among the most notable cases he handled with the firm, Colom represented Taylor Bell, an Itawamba Agricultural School student who was disciplined by the school for publishing a rap song on Facebook that contained vulgar lyrics and criticized two coaches at the school. See Miss. Student Challenges Suspension Over Rap Song, A.P. State & Local Wire, Dec. 4, 2012. The district court dismissed Bell’s challenge, finding that the song was not protected under the First Amendment. See Bell v. Itawamba Cnty. Sch. Bd., 859 F. Supp. 2d 834 (N.D. Miss. 2012). However, a divided panel of the Fifth Circuit reversed the dismissal, finding that the disciplining of a student for purely off-campus activities violates the First Amendment. See Bell v. Itawamba Cnty. Sch. Bd., 774 F.3d 280 (5th Cir. 2014). The full Fifth Circuit took the matter en banc and affirmed the district court’s decision. See Bell v. Itawamba Cnty. Sch. Bd., 799 F.3d 379 (5th Cir. 2015) (en banc).
Since 2016, Colom has served as district attorney for the 16th Judicial District in Mississippi, which covers four counties in Northeastern Mississippi. His campaign against longtime incumbent Forrest Allgood involved criticism of the incumbent’s “tough on crime” record and the number of overturned convictions under his watch. See Leon Neyfakh, How to Run Against a Tough-on-Crime DA – And Win, Slate, Nov. 12, 2015.
Notably, as D.A., Colom was asked to review criminal charges related to the shooting death of Ricky Ball from police officer Canyon Boykin. Colom controversially decided to hand the case to the Attorney General’s office for prosecution, stating that his office handling the case would have an appearance of bias given their close relationship with the police department. See Jeff Amy, District Attorney Hands Police Shooting Prosecution to State, A.P. State & Local, July 6, 2016. However, after Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood was replaced by Republican Lynn Fitch in the 2019 elections, Fitch dropped the charges against Boykin, prompting criticism by Colom, who claimed that he was not consulted in the decision. See DA: Bad Time to Drop Charge of Ex-Cop in Black Man’s Death, A.P. Int’l, May 29, 2020.
In other matters, Colom supported the release of Steven Jessie Harris, who had been held for 11 years without trial, to a state mental health facility. Emily Wagster Pettus, Man Held 11 Years Without Trial Will Go to Mental Facility, A.P. State & Local, June 14, 2016. He also dropped murder charges against Brittania Smith, noting that toxicology reports did not support that she had fatally poisoned her child. See Murder Charge Dropped Against West Point Woman, A.P. State & Local, July 11, 2016. Colom also dropped murder charges against Eddie Lee Howard, who spent 23 years on death row, after his conviction was based on debunked bite mark evidence. See Leah Willingham, Murder Charge Dismissed After Debunked Bite-Mark Testimony, A.P. Int’l, Jan. 11, 2021.
Statements and Writings
As a district attorney, Colom has frequently issued statements regarding prosecutions of his office. He has also issued statements on other issues as well. For example, in 2021, Colom was one of the politicians who was discovered to have unpaid campaign finance fines (in his case $50). See Taylor Vance, Mississippi Elected Officials, Candidates Owe Thousands in Unpaid Campaign Finance Fines, Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, July 1, 2021. In the article, Colom blamed the failure to pay on a lack of notice from the Secretary of State’s office, noting that a predecessor had sent out email notifications. See id. (quoting Scott Colom).
Specifically, Colom has been vocal about the use of special prosecutors to prosecute cases of police misconduct, arguing that keeping the cases with the elected prosecutors’ offices creates an appearance of bias. See Why one North Mississippi D.A. Thinks Special Prosecutors Hold the Key in Police Shootings, Mississippi Today, Aug. 20, 2018.
In addition, Colom has frequently joined amicus briefs and letters with other prosecutors. For example, Colom signed onto an amicus brief with the Fifth Circuit opposing cash bail for misdemeanor defendants. See Attorney General Racine, Other Prosecutors and Law Enforcement Leaders Call for End to Cash Bail for Misdemeanor Defendants, States News Service, Aug. 10, 2017. Colom also signed onto a Supreme Court brief seeking to overturn a 241 year sentence imposed by Missouri on a juvenile. See 75 Judges, Prosecutors, Probation, Corrections, Law Enforcement Leaders Call on Supreme Court to Reject 241-Year Sentence for Juvenile, Targeted News Service, Mar. 15, 2018. Colom also joined an amicus brief seeking the overturning of a Missouri conviction after new evidence was unearthed. See Elected Prosecutors File State Supreme Court Brief in Support of New Trial for Innocent Man Behind Bars, States News Service, Feb. 11, 2020. He also wrote in support of reducing prison populations in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. See Scott Colom and Miriam Aroni Krinsky, Tragedy of COVID-19 in Prison Shows Need for Decarceration, The People’s Vanguard of Davis, July 3, 2020. See also Elected Prosecutors Call for Dramatic Reduction in Incarcerated and Detained Populations in Response to Coronavirus, The People’s Vanguard of Davis, Mar. 18, 2020.
Given Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Durbin’s commitment to preserve home-state veto power over district court nominees, Colom makes for a curious choice from the Biden Administration for Mississippi. His record overall is strongly liberal and willing to court controversy. Additionally, at only 38, Colom is young enough to have a lengthy tenure on the court. One would think that these would be reasons for Mississippi’s home state senators to block his nomination.
However, the fact that Colom’s nomination has become public suggests that the senators have, at least tentatively, signed off on him. For all of the Administration’s judicial assertiveness, they have largely resisted the urge to override home-state senators on nominations, even in states where they could have arguably done so. As such, it will be interesting to see if Colom’s nomination represents part of a deal with Mississippi senators (perhaps as part of the state’s U.S. Attorney picks), or if Colom was able to strongly impress the senators in meeting with them. As Colom is also a good friend of Mississippi Republican Representative Trent Kelly, it is possible that Colom has fans on the other side of the aisle.