A federal judge heard arguments Wednesday about whether African-American voters in part of Mississippi have a chance to elect a candidate of their choice in a state Senate district with a slim black majority. Three black plaintiffs sued the state in July, asking U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves to order that Senate District 22 be redrawn to increase its black majority. One of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, Rob McDuff, said the district has a history of racially polarized voting that creates hurdles for any black candidate to win in the district. “They are always losing, no matter how good the quality of the candidate,” McDuff said Wednesday. Mike Wallace is an attorney representing Republican Gov. Phil Bryant and Republican Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, who are two of the three state election commissioners named as defendants. Wallace said that although Mississippi had barriers in the past to black voter registration and participation, plaintiffs failed to show that African-Americans face hurdles now in District 22. “There isn’t anything impeding them from exercising the right to vote,” Wallace said.
African-Americans make up about 38 percent of Mississippi’s population and hold 25 percent of the seats in the state Senate. That is 13 of the 52 seats, the highest number ever in a state where the white power structure for decades used poll taxes,
literacy tests and violence to suppress black people’s voting rights. The federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 eliminated some of those barriers, and African-Americans challenged legislative districts that diluted the power of black voters.