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Appeals court won’t reverse Mississippi district line change

August 1, 2019

A federal appeals court on Thursday rejected an effort to reverse the redrawing of boundaries of a state Senate district in Mississippi.

A three-judge panel on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 that the new boundaries should remain in Senate District 22, meaning Tuesday’s primary will proceed under those new lines.

No detailed opinions were issued Thursday, and the short opinion didn’t say which judge had dissented.

Plaintiffs sued the state last year, arguing the district’s old lines, which stretched from mostly black and poor parts of the rural Delta into mostly white and affluent suburbs outside Jackson, were illegally drawn to dilute African American voting strength. That district had a black voting age population of 51%, and had elected a white Republican state senator in recent years. A judge agreed with plaintiffs 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 in February ordered lawmakers to redraw it. After a divided 5th Circuit panel refused to block the order pending appeal results in March, legislators redrew the contested district. 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%.

Gov. Phil Bryant and Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann asked in May that the court immediately overturn the district judge and re-instate the original lines. They had hoped for a ruling in time to reopen qualifying for the primary.

State attorneys argue that the plaintiffs waited too late to sue. The suit was filed in mid-2018, six years after the district was cleared by the U.S. Justice Department and three years after the 2015 election in which a black challenger lost. The state also argues that under federal law, a three-judge panel should have heard the original case, not a single district judge.

Plaintiffs in the voting rights lawsuit at issue said there was no need to change the lines again ahead of this year’s election. They noted that the plan adopted by the Legislature this year to satisfy the judge’s ruling will likely only be used once. The U.S. Census takes place next year and will be followed by redrawing of district lines to account for population shifts.

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Follow Jeff Amy at: http://twitter.com/jeffamy .

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