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The Skanner News
Published: 04 August 2019

JACKSON, Miss. —The redistricting plan adopted by the Mississippi Legislature in 2012 for Senate District 22 diluted the voting strength of African-American voters in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, according to a ruling by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The appeals court ruling upheld a previous court decision.

Prior to the decision, the Legislature had redrawn the district to comply with the trial court’s ruling, and the Fifth Circuit ruled that the re-drawn district would be the operative district for the upcoming primary and general elections.

“We are gratified that the Fifth Circuit has agreed that the overwhelming evidence in this case showed that the Mississippi Legislature drew District 22 in a way that deprived African-American voters of an equal opportunity to participate in the political process. This is an important victory.” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

“Fairness in elections is vital to our democracy,” said attorney Rob McDuff of Jackson, who tried the case on behalf of the Mississippi Center for Justice.

“Enforcement of the Voting Rights Act promotes fairness, and this decision confirms that all voters must be treated equally when it comes to redistricting."

The case was brought on behalf of three African-American voters in Senate District 22, one of whom is Joseph Thomas, a former state senator from Yazoo City who lost in a run for the seat in 2015 after he had been moved into the district during 2012 redistricting.

The plaintiffs were represented by MCJ, the national Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Waters Kraus firm of Dallas, and attorney Ellis Turnage of Cleveland, MS.

The other two plaintiffs are Melvin Lawson of Bolivar County and Vernon Ayers of Washington County.In issuing its brief order affirming the decision of U.S. District Court Judge Carlton Reeves, the Fifth Circuit indicated that more comprehensive opinions, including a dissent, were forthcoming. 

Senate District 22 stretches from Bolivar County in the north to Madison County in the south. It is comprised of parts of Bolivar, Washington, Humphreys, Yazoo, and Madison Counties and all of Sharkey County.

The lawsuit contended that the legislature’s decision in 2012 to add wealthy predominantly white portions of Madison County to the poorer Delta counties helped perpetuate the long-standing dilution of African-American voting strength in the district.

Although the district as drawn in 2012 contained a bare 50.8% African-American voting age population, the evidence demonstrated that White bloc voting prevented African-American candidates of choice from being elected in the district.

The plaintiffs submitted into evidence potential remedial redistricting plans that would redraw only Districts 22 and 23 to raise the African-American population percentage in 22 without impacting any of the 50 other senate districts in the state.

The plaintiffs’ case was presented in court by McDuff, and Jon Greenbaum, Pooja Chaudhuri and Arusha Gordon of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

Mr. McDuff, Mr. Greenbaum, Ms. Chaudhuri, and Ezra Rosenberg presented the case on appeal.

 

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination.

Now in its 56th year, the  principal mission of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice for all, particularly in the areas of criminal justice, fair housing and community development, economic justice, educational opportunities, and voting rights.

 

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