/Federal appeals court orders Legislature to redraw ‘gerrymandered’ 102-mile Senate district by April 3

Federal appeals court orders Legislature to redraw ‘gerrymandered’ 102-mile Senate district by April 3

Gov. Phil Bryant and Secretary of state Delbert Hosemann asked the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to New Orleans to overturn the decision of Judge Carlton Reeves, U.S. District Court in New Orleans, last month. The Fifth Circuit will hear their appeal. Instead, the appeals court ordered that the Mississippi Legislature redraw the map by April 3rd. The Fifth Circuit, however, denied Reeves’ request for a stay and ordered the Mississippi Legislature to redraw the map by April 3. The Fifth Circuit extended the deadline for filing for candidates seeking a seat in the 2019 senate in these districts to April 12. Rob McDuff, an attorney representing the plaintiffs, stated that Judge Reeves’ ruling that District 22 lines should be altered for this year’s election was “quite rightly confirmed” by the Court of Appeals. “This configuration added wealthy, majority-white suburbs to a largely African American rural district in the Delta to dilute African American voting strength in violation the Voting Rights Act,” said Rob McDuff, an attorney for the plaintiffs. Phil Bryant Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann and Attorney General Jim Hood. Six counties are currently included in State Senate District 22, including central Mississippi and the Delta. It is irregularly shaped with a large center and two narrow arms. One extends north past Cleveland, and the other reaches into Madison County. The district ends at the Barnett Reservoir. Distance between them is approximately 102 miles. Mississippi has 52 senator districts. The distance between them is approximately 320m from top to bottom. In June, the lawsuit was filed claiming that state officials elongated the district and added wealthy, largely white neighborhoods to Madison County to reduce the district’s black population to 50.8 per cent. This, along with lower African American turnout and white bloc voting, have diluted the voting power of one of the state’s most African American areas. Since 2004, Sen. Buck Clark (R-Hollandale) has held the seat in the senate. In 2019, he is running to be the state treasurer. All three plaintiffs, Vernon Ayers from Washington County and Joseph Thomas of Yazoo County as well as Melvin Lawson, Bolivar County’s, are residents of District 22. Madison County is home to all six of the six counties, with the exception of one. It is predominantly African American and lies in the Mississippi Delta. “Gerrymandering is a major threat to democracy. Kristen Clarke, Executive Director of Lawyers’ Committee For Civil Rights Under Law, stated that Mississippi’s current districting plan effectively denies African American voters equal participation in the political process. Reeves was supported by the Fifth Circuit, which gave the Legislature the first chance to redraw the district. However, whatever plan they choose to draw the district is likely have repercussions in neighboring districts. Reeves pointed out that plaintiffs had previously suggested three alternative plans that would comply in his February ruling. The Districts 22 & 23 would be affected by two of these plans. The third plan would impact Districts 22, 23 and 13. These seats are currently held by Senator Briggs Hopson (R-Vicksburg) and Clark (D-Cleveland). Simmons will not be running for reelection in 2019, but will instead run as the transportation commissioner for Mississippi’s central region. Seven candidates are qualified to run for Senate District 22 as it stands now. Joseph C. Thomas and Ruffin Smith were all Democrats at the March 1 deadline. Colton Thornton and Earl Scales also qualified. Dwayne Self and Hayes Dent qualified as Republican candidates.