Saturday, February 18, 2017
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi House Republican leaders will appeal a court ruling in a dispute over an election that tied, went to a drawing of straws and was later flipped.
The disputed election gave House Republicans a three-fifths supermajority by changing a seat from Democrat Bo Eaton to the GOP's Mark Tullos.
The lawsuit was filed by a lawsuit filed by five voters whose ballots were discarded. U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves ruled Jan. 27 that the voters could move forward with a lawsuit claiming their constitutional rights were violated when the House tossed out their ballots.
Reeves said the federal court lacks jurisdiction to decide the outcome of the 2015 Eaton-Tullos race. But, Reeves said the five voters who filed suit could pursue their own constitutional claim.
Eaton, a farmer from Taylorsville, sought a sixth term in in a rural district south of Jackson. The race between him and Tullos, who's an attorney from Raleigh, went to a tiebreaker that Eaton won in a drawing of straws overseen by the secretary of state.
Weeks later, the House tossed out some ballots that local officials originally said were properly cast. That made Tullos the winner and gave the GOP a supermajority in the House — a margin that means Republicans don't have to seek any help from Democrats to change tax laws.
The defendants in the lawsuit are Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn, the four Republican House members who recommended tossing out the ballots and the entire House of Representatives.
Reeves wrote that "through intentional elimination of their votes, defendants deprived each individual plaintiff of his or her civic voice not just for the 2016 legislative session, but also the 2017, 2018, and 2019 sessions, and any special session called during those years."
Reeves rejected legislators' assertion that they are immune from being sued. He said that although legislators cannot be sued over general policy decisions, they can be sued over a type of action that is "specific and relate to a single individual," such as deciding to toss out specific ballots.
Michael Wallace, an attorney hired by House leaders, filed a one-page document Tuesday saying all the defendants would ask the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn Reeves' ruling and uphold "absolute legislative immunity" from being sued.
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