Major Voting Rights Win in MCJ Lawsuit

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

 CONTACT: DANA THOMAS, Communications Director

Mississippi Center for Justice

dthomas@mscenterforjustice.org, 769.230.2841

 DERRICK ROBINSON, Director of Communications

Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

DRobinson@LawyersCommittee.org, 202-662-8317

FEDERAL COURT REQUIRES REDRAWING OF 

MISSISSIPPI SENATE DISTRICT 22 IN MCJ LAWSUIT

JACKSON, Miss., February 13, 2019 —Federal District Judge Carlton Reeves issued an order today declaring that the districts lines of State Senate District 22 violate Section 2 of the federal Voting Rights Act.  Judge Reeves said that the legislature should have the first opportunity to draw a new district that complies with the Act.

“Anyone who attended last week’s trial before Judge Reeves will agree that the evidence fully supports his conclusion,” said attorney Rob McDuff of Jackson, who tried the case on behalf of the Mississippi Center for Justice.  “None of their testimony refuted the conclusions of our expert witnesses that this plan dilutes African-American voting strength.  Under the facts and the law, this is a clear violation of the Voting Rights Act.”

“The districting plan in Mississippi’s State Senate effectively denied African American voters the right to choose their elected officials,” said Kristen Clarke, President and Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “The people of Mississippi and every American deserves an equal opportunity to participate in a fair democratic process. This important victory will finally secure a fair state senate map and provide long overdue relief to African Americans in in the state.”

The case was brought on behalf of three African-American voters in Senate District 22, one of whom is Joseph Thomas, a former state senator from Yazoo City who lost in a run for the seat in 2015 after he had been moved into the district during the 2012 redistricting.  The plaintiffs were represented by MCJ, the national Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Waters Kraus firm of Dallas, and attorney Ellis Turnage of Cleveland, MS.  The other two plaintiffs are Melvin Lawson of Bolivar County and Vernon Ayers of Washington County.

“Either the legislature can take advantage of this opportunity to redraw the district or Judge Reeves will do it,” said McDuff.  “Hopefully, the legislature will take on this responsibility and draw a lawful redistricting plan that will bring the case to an end and limit further expense to the State.”

In his order, Judge Reeves said that he will issue a longer opinion next week explaining the reasons for his decision.

Senate District 22 stretches from Bolivar County in the north to Madison County in the south.  It is comprised of parts of Bolivar, Washington, Humphreys, Yazoo, and Madison Counties and all of Sharkey County.  The lawsuit contended that the legislature’s decision in 2012 to add wealthy predominantly white portions of Madison County to the poorer Delta counties helped perpetuate the long-standing dilution of African-American voting strength in the district.  Although the district as drawn in 2012 contained a bare 50.8% African-American voting age population, the evidence demonstrated that white bloc voting prevented African-American candidates of choice from being elected in the district.  The plaintiffs submitted into evidence potential remedial redistricting plans that would redraw only Districts 22 and 23 to raise the African-American population percentage in 22 without impacting any of the 50 other senate districts in the state.

The plaintiffs’ case was presented in court by McDuff, along with Jon Greenbaum, Arusha Gordon and Pooja Chaudhuri of the Lawyers’ Committee.

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About the Mississippi Center for Justice

The Mississippi Center for Justice is a nonprofit, public interest law firm committed to advancing racial and economic justice. Supported and staffed by attorneys, community leaders and volunteers, the Center develops and pursues strategies to combat discrimination and poverty statewide.

About the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination. Now in its 56th year, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is continuing its quest to “Move America Toward Justice.” The principal mission of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice for all, particularly in the areas of criminal justice, fair housing and community development, economic justice, educational opportunities, and voting rights.