Civil Rights Advocates File Federal Lawsuit Over Mississippi’s Racially Gerrymandered Maps

December 20, 2022 9:45 am

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JACKSON, Miss. — Civil rights advocates today challenged Mississippi’s 2022 state legislative district maps for unlawfully diluting the voting strength of Black Mississippians.

The American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Mississippi, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law; Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP, Mississippi Center for Justice, and civil rights attorney Carroll Rhodes are representing the Mississippi State Conference of the NAACP and voters from across the state in the federal lawsuit.

The lawsuit charges that the 2022 maps deny Black residents in areas throughout Mississippi an equal opportunity to participate in the political process and elect candidates of their choice, in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It also charges that the state gerrymandered certain district lines by improperly using voters’ race, in violation of the U.S. Constitution.

New political maps are drawn as part of a once-in-a-decade redistricting process triggered by census data. They determine the allocation of political power, representation, and access to resources at every level of government across the country for the next 10 years. Mississippi’s maps, which were released at the very end of the 2022 legislative session, were drawn with virtually no transparency and passed into law mere days after they were first revealed to the public.

According to the lawsuit:

  • Black Mississippians comprise approximately 38 percent of the state’s residents, and the Black population continues to grow. Yet the new state legislative district maps do not reflect the reality of Mississippi’s demographics and growing Black population.

  • The Mississippi Legislature rushed the 2022 maps through the legislative process in a matter of days at the tail end of the legislative session, with no advance public hearings to allow for the public to review the proposed maps.

  • Mississippi’s Black population could support at least four additional Black-majority Senate districts and at least three additional Black-majority House districts in several areas across the state where Black voters, despite their numbers and despite voting cohesively, have previously been unable to elect candidates of their choice due to the prevalence of severe racially polarized voting.

  • Areas where new Black-majority districts should have been drawn to prevent illegal vote dilution include fast-growing DeSoto County, Hinds County, the Golden Triangle area, and areas around Hattiesburg as well as Jasper and Clarke Counties. In other areas, such as Gulfport, the state impermissibly cracked communities along racial lines.

  • These new maps are just the latest attempt to deny Black Mississippians political power. Even after the passage of the VRA in 1965 — landmark legislation for which Mississippians organized, fought, and in some cases died — the state continued to manipulate electoral processes for years to keep Black Mississippians from obtaining the ballot and fair representation, including through discriminatory at-large districting schemes, dual registration systems, unfair candidate qualification requirements, and other mechanisms. Sadly, those efforts persist into the present day.

  • Due to persistent and overwhelming racial polarization in voting, no Black Mississippian has ever been elected to statewide office in the 132 years since the adoption of the state’s 1890 Constitution. No Black Mississippian has ever served as state House speaker or Senate president pro tempore. Black candidates are rarely elected to legislative office in Mississippi outside of Black-majority districts.
  • The plaintiffs are seeking a federal court order requiring that new districts be drawn that comply with the Voting Rights Act and the Constitution.

The following comments are from:

Janette McCarthy Wallace, General Counsel, NAACP: “Mississippi’s newest maps are a continuation of the state’s long history of disenfranchising Black voters. Black voices were not heard in the redistricting process and these districts, which break up Black communities and limit their electoral voice, are the result. If our elections are to be just, equitable and fair, it is imperative that all Mississippians have a fair opportunity to elect candidates that reflect their communities and are responsive to their needs.”

Jarvis Dortch, Executive Director, ACLU of Mississippi: “Legislators should not draw their districts to guarantee their reelection. When they do so, they ignore the public need. One day, Mississippians will have a legislature that prioritizes their needs and follows the law. But that only happens if we continue to hold the current body accountable. That only happens when voters choose their legislators, not when legislators choose their voters.”

Ari Savitzky, Senior Staff Attorney, ACLU Voting Rights Project: “There is no legitimate justification for drawing maps that deny Black voters a fair opportunity to elect representatives of their choosing. These maps illegally prevent Black Mississippians from fully and fairly participating in our democracy. Mississippi deserves better than this.”

Ezra Rosenberg, Co-Director, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law Voting Rights Project: “The Mississippi state legislature failed to recognize the growth of the Black population and diluted the votes of Black voters, effectively denying them an equal voice in their destiny. In key districts, the legislature manipulated the Black voting population to diminish their ability to elect state legislative representatives.”

Vangela M. Wade, President and CEO, Mississippi Center for Justice: “This is the latest chapter in the ongoing struggle of Black people in Mississippi for fair representation and for the right to cast a meaningful ballot on Election Day. We are pleased to be working with our partners as we continue moving forward in this quest.”

The lawsuit, Mississippi State Conference of the NAACP v. State Board of Election Commissioners, was filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi.

Complaint: https://www.aclu.org/legal-document/complaint-mississippi-state-conference-naacp-v-state-board-election-commissioners

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