JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A state Senate district in Mississippi dilutes black voting power and should be redrawn, three African-American plaintiffs say in a federal lawsuit filed Monday.
The suit asks a judge to order legislators to reconfigure the district before the 2019 state elections.
District 22 has a 51 percent black voting-age population, and the suit says it lacks "real electoral opportunity" for African-Americans.
"The lack of opportunity is the result of white bloc voting and lower African-American turnout that are vestiges of the historical discrimination and extreme socio-economic disparities that have been inflicted upon African-Americans over a long period of time," the lawsuit says.
The district has been represented since January 2004 by Republican Sen. Eugene "Buck" Clarke of Hollandale, who is white and is chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee.
The district is more than 100 miles (161 kilometers) long, stretching through parts of six counties — Bolivar, Humphreys, Sharkey, Washington, Yazoo and Madison. It goes from the impoverished Delta flatlands down into the affluent Jackson suburbs.
Clarke said Monday that he had not read the lawsuit, but all of Mississippi's legislative districts were approved in 2012 by the Justice Department under then-President Barack Obama.
"Here's the problem: The Delta's losing population," Clarke told The Associated Press on Monday.
He said changing one legislative district would affect others around it.
"You can't just move one little line somewhere," said Clarke, who has not decided whether he will seek re-election in 2019.
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 — 13 seats of 52.
The lawsuit says no African-American candidate has been elected to the Mississippi Senate in a district with a 51 percent black voting age population. One current African-American senator is from a district with a 55 percent black population, while all others are from districts that are at least 61 percent black, the suit says.
One plaintiff is Joseph Thomas of Yazoo City, who served in the state Senate from 2004 to 2008 in a district adjoining Clarke's. More of Yazoo County was added to Clarke's district after the 2010 Census, and Thomas ran against Clarke in 2015. Clarke won with nearly 54 percent of the vote.