The Mississippi Legislature must redraw the state House and Senate district maps to create more Black-majority districts after a federal court ruled on Tuesday that the maps do not offer Black voters equal participation in the political process.

MS NAACP v. SBEC Three Judge Panel Op
Read the court’s ruling.

The Mississippi Senate has 52 districts and the Mississippi House has 122 state House districts. But despite the fact that about 38% of Mississippi residents are Black, just 15 state Senate districts and 42 state House districts have Black majorities, or about 29% and 34%, respectively. The Legislature drew and adopted the current maps in 2022 after the 2020 Census.

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi ruled the Legislature should have created at least two additional Black-majority districts in the Senate and one additional Black-majority district in the state House in the 2022 maps. Lacking Black-majority districts violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, and shows the history of racial discrimination in the state, the court said in the decision.

The ruling requires the Legislature to create new majority-Black districts in the areas around DeSoto County and the City of Hattiesburg and a new majority-Black district in Chickasaw and Monroe counties. The case came before a three-judge panel that included District Judge Sul Ozerden, Chief District Judge Daniel Jordan III and Circuit Judge Leslie Southwick.

“The 2022 maps illegally prevented Black Mississippians from fully and fairly participating in our democracy in places like DeSoto County, Hattiesburg, and Chickasaw County. The court correctly found that the Voting Rights Act demands more,” senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project Ari Savitzky said in a Wednesday press release.

Dr. Lisa Handley gave expert-witness testimony in court. She found that “Black candidates were successful in the state legislative elections only in majority-minority districts” because 83.3% of Black voters support Black candidates while 18.3% of white voters support Black candidates.

“That Mississippi voters have been separated by race even when most black voters were Republicans and white voters were Democrats adds weight to our finding that racially polarized voting best explains the divide,” the decision says.

The Crirec asked Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch for an interview for this story but did not hear back by press time. It is not clear whether or not her office will appeal the ruling.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law; the American Civil Liberties Union; the ACLU of Mississippi; Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP; the Mississippi Center for Justice; and civil rights attorney Carroll Rhodes filed the lawsuit challenging the maps in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi on behalf of Mississippi voters and the Mississippi State Conference of the NAACP in December 2022.

Reporter Heather Harrison graduated from Mississippi State University with a degree in Communication in 2023. She worked at The Reflector student newspaper for three years, starting as a staff writer, then the news editor before becoming the editor-in-chief. During her time at The Reflector, Heather won 13 awards for her multi-media journalism work.

In her free time, Heather likes to walk her dog, Finley, read books, and listen to Taylor Swift. Heather lives in Starkville, where she has spent the past four years. She is a Hazlehurst, Mississippi, native.

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