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Mississippi requests new hearing in redistricting lawsuit

April 8, 2019

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Two Republicans in Mississippi took steps Monday to block the court-ordered redrawing of a state Senate district that could increase black representation at the state Capitol.

Attorneys for Gov. Phil Bryant and Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann filed papers asking the entire 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to hear arguments in a redistricting lawsuit filed by black plaintiffs.

The lawsuit challenges Senate District 22, which stretches from mostly black and poor parts of the rural Delta into mostly white and affluent suburbs outside Jackson. The district has a 51% black voting age population and 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.

U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves ruled in February that the district dilutes black voting power and ordered lawmakers to redraw it. Reeves said they could also adjust neighboring districts as needed. An appeals court panel upheld the ruling.

Legislators in late March redrew the contested district and one other. Their plan gives District 22 a 58% black voting age population by swapping some Delta precincts with the adjoining District 13, whose black voting age population will drop from 69% to 62%.

Attorneys for the black plaintiffs said in court papers last week that they accepted the new districts that legislators drew, but Monday’s court filing throws the resolution of the lawsuit into doubt. The deadline for candidates to qualify is supposed to be Friday.

The new court papers filed by attorneys for the governor and secretary of state renew questions about the timeliness of the lawsuit. Reeves had ruled that the timing of the lawsuit was not a problem.

“If this suit had been brought after 2012 or in 2015, when all the facts necessary to plaintiffs’ case were unquestionably known, orderly review and orderly deliberation could have taken place,” the attorneys for Bryant and Hosemann wrote. “That would even have been the case if the suit had been brought in 2016 or in 2017. But it was not. Instead it was brought in mid-2018 and produced the unseemly spectacle before us now.”

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 districts redrawn by the Legislature are not seeking reelection. 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

African Americans make up about 38% of Mississippi’s population and hold 25%, or 13 of 52, seats in the state Senate.

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

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