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Court orders end to lawsuit over 2015 Mississippi election

May 15, 2018

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A federal court is ending a dispute over a 2015 Mississippi House race that originally went to a tiebreaker and was then overturned by the Legislature.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said in a decision Friday that federal courts lack jurisdiction over a dispute about a state legislative seat.

The appeals court ordered a district court judge to dismiss the lawsuit filed by five voters who supported Democrat Bo Eaton, a farmer from Taylorsville who sought a sixth term in 2015 in a rural House district south of Jackson.

The race between Eaton and Republican Mark 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, lawmakers tossed out some ballots that local officials originally said were properly cast. That made Tullos the winner and gave Republicans a three-fifths supermajority in the House — a margin that means they don’t have to seek any help from Democrats to change tax laws.

U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves ruled in January 2017 that the federal court lacks jurisdiction to decide the outcome of the state House race. However, Reeves said the five voters who filed suit could pursue their claim that their own constitutional guarantee of equal protection was violated. That carried the case to the appeals court, which ultimately agreed with Reeves’ original assessment.

The appeals court said Congress specified that “federal courts may not hear an election contest involving the office of a ‘member of a state legislature.‘” The appeals court judges also said they were not persuaded by arguments that the five voters’ constitutional rights were violated.

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Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus .

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