Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law Files Suit Claiming Mississippi Denies African American Voters
Equal Opportunity to Participate in Election of State Representative
Washington, DC — The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Mississippi Center for Justice, and a team of other lawyers, today filed a federal court lawsuit seeking to redraw Mississippi State Senate District 22 prior to the 2019 election. The lawsuit contends that the boundary lines of District 22, which is located primarily in the Mississippi Delta, dilute African-American voting strength in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
African-Americans are under-represented in the Mississippi Senate, where they hold 25% of the seats (13 of 52) in a state that is at least 35% African-American in voting age population. The suit claims that while District 22 has a 50.8% African-American voting age population, District 22 elections since 2003 have consistently been won by white Republican Eugene “Buck” Clarke, who has defeated his mostly African-American opponents even though African-American voters generally support those opponents.
“Gerrymandering stands as one of the greatest threats to democracy today. The current districting plan in Mississippi’s State Senate effectively denies African American voters an equal opportunity to participate in the political process,” said Kristen Clarke, President and Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “The people of Mississippi deserve a fair and equal democratic process. Through the courts, we are fighting to secure a fair state senate map that will provide long overdue relief to African Americans in Mississippi.”
“There will be a lot of focus on redistricting when election lines everywhere are redrawn after the 2020 census,” said Jackson civil rights attorney Rob McDuff, who is working with the Center on lawsuits regarding the right to vote. “But because there is a problem with District 22 that needs to be cured before the census and before the 2019 election, we are bringing this case now.”
According to the lawsuit, a combination of white bloc voting against African-American-supported candidates and lower African-American turnout stemming from socioeconomic disparities and historical discrimination have prevented African-American voters from electing candidates of their choice in District 22. The suit states that District 22 would have a higher African-American population if the legislature had not elongated the district by adding wealthy white neighborhoods in southern Madison County to the relatively poor African-American areas in the Delta that comprise much of the district.
The Mississippi Center for Justice (MCJ), the Lawyers Committee, and McDuff are joined in the lawsuit by civil rights attorney Ellis Turnage of Cleveland, MS, and the Waters Kraus law firm of Dallas. “This is part of an effort by MCJ that will continue through the post-2020 redistricting process to insure that Mississippi elections lines are drawn fairly,” said the Mississippi Center for Justice President and CEO Reilly Morse.
To read the brief, click here.