JACKSON — Three top Mississippi officials are asking a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit that seeks to create a larger black majority in one of the 52 state Senate districts.
Gov. Phil Bryant, Attorney General Jim Hood and Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann said in court papers filed Wednesday that they didn’t draw the state legislative districts and should not be sued.
Bryant and Hosemann, who are Republicans, and Hood, who is a Democrat, are the only members of the state Elections Commission, but legislators draw state House and Senate maps.
The lawsuit was filed July 9 by three black people, including one who lost in 2015 to Republican incumbent Eugene “Buck” Clarke of Hollandale.
It says District 22 is 51 percent black but “lacks real electoral opportunity” for African-Americans. The district is more than 100 miles long, stretching through parts of six counties from the Delta down into the affluent Jackson suburbs of Madison County.
Clarke, who is white, has represented the district since January 2004 and is current chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Plaintiffs want a judge to order state officials to redraw the district before 2019 elections.
The lawsuit says District 22 could be redrawn to have about a 60 percent black voting age population, and “one or two adjacent districts” would have to be changed.
Mississippi’s population is nearly 38 percent black. The lawsuit says the state’s voting age population is at least 35 percent black, while African-Americans hold 25 percent of seats in the state Senate. That is 13 of the 52 seats.
Among the groups representing the plaintiffs are the Mississippi Center for Justice and the New York-based Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
The lawsuit originally said no African-American candidate has been elected to the Mississippi Senate in a district with black voting age population as low as 51 percent. An amended lawsuit was filed July 25 to note that Eric Powell, who is black, was elected from a majority-white state Senate district in 2007. Powell, a Democrat, was defeated by a white Republican in 2011 and lost again when he ran in 2015 in a district in the northeastern corner of the state.