Friday, April 5, 2019
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — African American residents who sued Mississippi say they are accepting legislators' plan to redraw two state Senate districts in a way that could increase black representation at the state Capitol.
A lawsuit filed by black plaintiffs last year challenges a Senate district stretching from mostly black and poor parts of the rural Delta into mostly white and affluent suburbs outside Jackson. The district's voting age population is 51% black and it has a white Republican senator.
Attorneys for the Mississippi Center for Justice and the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, representing the plaintiffs, said that because of Mississippi's history of racial discrimination, state Senate District 22 lacked a large enough black majority to give African American residents a realistic chance to elect a candidate of their choice.
A federal judge agreed, ruling in February that the district dilutes black voting power. The judge told legislators to redraw District 22 and allowed them to adjust other districts, as needed.
The plan adopted by legislators gives District 22 a 58% black voting age population by swapping some Delta precincts with the adjoining District 13, which goes from 69% black voting age population to 62%.
The black plaintiffs could have asked the federal court to reject the legislators' plan and instead adopt a different plan to redraw District 22 and at least one other district. They chose not to challenge the legislators' map.
"The changes significantly increase the potential for African-American voters to elect candidates of their choice in District 22," attorneys for the plaintiffs wrote in federal court papers filed late Thursday.
They wrote that the plan makes District 22 "much more compact" by shortening its north-to-south length from 100 miles (161 kilometers) to 87 miles (140 kilometers).
All of Mississippi's legislative seats are up for election this year, and the two new districts will be used.
Candidates for most legislative races had a March 1 qualifying deadline. Candidates in the two new districts have an April 12 qualifying deadline.
African Americans make up about 38% of Mississippi's population and hold 25% of the seats in the state Senate. That is 13 of the 52 seats, the highest number ever in a state where the white power structure for decades used poll taxes, literacy tests and violence to suppress black people's voting rights. The federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 eliminated some of those barriers, and African Americans challenged past legislative districts that diluted the power of black voters.
Mississippi's current legislative district lines were set in 2012 and have been used since the 2015 legislative elections.
The two senators who currently represent the redrawn districts are not seeking re-election. Sen. Buck Clarke of Hollandale, the white Republican senator in District 22, is running for state treasurer. Sen. Willie Simmons of Cleveland, the black Democratic senator in District 13, is running for state transportation commissioner.