The Southern Poverty Law Center and allied organizations filed a federal lawsuit challenging the voting district lines used to elect members of the Mississippi Supreme Court. The suit contends that the lines, which have not been adjusted in 35 years, dilute the voting strength of Black voters.
The state’s population is nearly 40% Black, a greater proportion than any other state. However, in the 100 years since Mississippi has elected members to its Supreme Court, there have been only four Black justices to serve – and never more than one at a time. The suit was filed on behalf of Mississippi civic leaders.
Because the district lines unfairly divide up the state’s Black population, they violate the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the U.S. Constitution, according to the suit. Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act makes it unlawful to water down the voting strength of racial groups. The state’s Black population is sufficiently numerous and concentrated to form a majority in one of the three at-large voting districts that Mississippi uses to elect its nine Supreme Court justices. Yet none of the three districts has a Black majority. And voting is so racially polarized in Mississippi that in the districts as configured, Black voters typically cannot elect candidates of their choice.
The plaintiffs are seeking to have the districts redrawn so that Black voters have an equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice. In particular, current District 1, which includes Jackson and part of the Mississippi Delta, could readily be redrawn in a manner consistent with traditional districting principles, to have a majority of eligible Black voters. This modest change would keep the state’s overall three-district scheme for Supreme Court elections intact, while ensuring that Supreme Court elections comply with federal law and allow Black Mississippians an opportunity to elect representative candidates.