August trial date set for lawsuit alleging discriminatory Mississippi Supreme Court districting

The trial to challenge the constitutionality of Mississippi’s Supreme Court districts is set to commence on August 5th in Oxford.

In April 2022, a group of Black Mississippians, including State Sen. Derrick Simmons, D-Greensville, filed a lawsuit alleging that the three districts responsible for electing the state’s nine Supreme Court justices dilute Black voter strength. The lawsuit was brought forth by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Mississippi, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and private law firms.

U.S. Northern District Judge Sharion Aycock will preside over the lawsuit.

According to the lawsuit, Mississippi, with a population that is nearly 40 percent Black, has the highest percentage of Black residents in the United States. However, in the past 100 years of electing its Supreme Court through popular vote, only four Black justices have ever been appointed to the bench.

During the past session, the Legislature reviewed the redrawing of chancery and circuit trial court districts to reflect the population changes indicated by the 2020 Census, according to Simmons, the Senate minority leader. However, this initiative was delayed until 2025, and Simmons confirmed that there was no attempt to redraw the Supreme Court districts during the 2024 session.

All of the Supreme Court justices from Mississippi who belong to the Black community were initially appointed by governors before winning re-election as the incumbent. It is noteworthy that all four of them were from the Central District.

Justice Latrice Westbrooks made history in 2020 when she ran for the Mississippi Supreme Court, aiming to become the first Black Mississippian to be elected to the position without first being appointed by a governor. Unfortunately, she narrowly lost the election to Kenny Griffis, who had been appointed to a vacant slot on the court by then-Governor Phil Bryant and was running for the first time.

The Public Service Commission and Transportation Commission are elected based on the three Supreme Court districts.

While the lawsuit regarding the Supreme Court districts is still in progress, there is another case that is currently under consideration. This particular case raises the issue of Mississippi’s legislative districts allegedly weakening the voting power of Black individuals.

According to the lawsuit, Black voters were “packed” into a small number of districts to diminish their electoral influence when the state Legislature redrew the House and Senate districts in 2022 to reflect the population changes from the 2020 Census.

According to Carroll Rhodes, a seasoned civil rights lawyer from Hazlehurst who is actively participating in the lawsuit, the newly proposed legislative districts are in direct violation of federal law and the U.S. Constitution. Rhodes argues that the districts unfairly concentrate Black voters in a limited number of regions, thereby reducing their overall political influence.

According to Rhodes and other experts, implementing a fresh redistricting plan could create a greater number of Black majority districts. Additionally, this plan could boost the representation of African Americans in other districts, giving them a stronger voice in those areas.

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MBS Staff
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