Suit: Mississippi High Court Districts Dilute Black Voting

Waikinya Clanton, Mississippi state office director for the Southern Poverty Law Center, speaks Monday, April 25, 2022, in Jackson, Miss. about a lawsuit that challenges Mississippi's three state Supreme Court districts. All three districts are majority-white, and about 38% of Mississippi residents are Black. The federal lawsuit says the districts violate the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution by diluting Black voting strength. (AP Photo/Emily Wagster Pettus)
Waikinya Clanton, Mississippi state office director for the Southern Poverty Law Center, speaks Monday, April 25, 2022, in Jackson, Miss. about a lawsuit that challenges Mississippi's three state Supreme Court districts. All three districts are majority-white, and about 38% of Mississippi residents are Black. The federal lawsuit says the districts violate the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution by diluting Black voting strength. (AP Photo/Emily Wagster Pettus)
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JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi needs to update its state Supreme Court districts to ensure Black voters have a chance to elect a candidate of their choice in a state with a history of racially polarized voting, Black plaintiffs said in a lawsuit filed Monday.

Mississippi's three Supreme Court districts are all majority-white, and they were last updated in 1987 over the objection of Black legislators, the lawsuit said. The suit alleges that the districts violate the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution by diluting Black voting strength.

About 38% of Mississippi residents are Black. Eight of the nine current justices are white, and one is Black.

Four Black justices have served on the Mississippi Supreme Court — never more than one at a time.

The American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Mississippi, Southern Poverty Law Center and the New York-based law firm Simpson Thacher & Bartlett filed the lawsuit in federal court in Greenville on behalf of four Black residents of Mississippi.

Ty Pinkins of Vicksburg, one of the plaintiffs, is an attorney who works in the majority-Black Mississippi Delta. He said it's important that his relatives and neighbors feel they are fairly represented on all levels of government, including in the judicial system.

“I want to make sure that those family members can see themselves on the court, those neighbors that I grew up next to, they can see themselves on the Supreme Court — they can see people that look like them and they can feel confident that the justice system if fair to them,” Pinkins said.

Mississippi legislators adopted plans this year to update the state’s congressional and legislative district boundaries to account for population changes revealed by the 2020 census.

The lawsuit asks a federal judge to order an update of the Supreme Court districts, which are for the northern, central and southern parts of the state.

The Black voting age population in the central district is now about 49%, which is the highest in any of the three districts, according to the suit. A Black candidate lost to a white candidate in the central district in 2012 and 2020.

“Time for these districts to change has come,” Ari Savitzky, an attorney for the ACLU Foundation, said Monday during a news conference in Jackson.

Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn, a Republican, said in response to questions later Monday that he had not read the lawsuit and could not discuss whether legislators will consider updating the boundaries of the Supreme Court districts.