Appeal Urges Fifth Circuit to Protect Minority Voting Rights in Challenge to Hattiesburg, Mississippi City Council Redistricting Plan

CLC Staff
Feb 1, 2016
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Today, the Campaign Legal Center, filed a brief on behalf of plaintiffs in Fairley v. Hattiesburg, urging the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit to reverse the District Court’s erroneous and dangerous rejection of their Voting Rights Act challenge to the 2012 Hattiesburg City Council redistricting plan.  The brief argues that the redistricting plan violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act because it deprives Black voters of an equal opportunity to elect representatives of their choice on account of their race. 

Hattiesburg, Mississippi has undergone significant demographic changes in recent years.  As a result, Blacks now comprise a majority of the population and a plurality of the voting age population.  Nonetheless, in 2012, the majority-White Hattiesburg City Council, over the objection of its Black members, passed a redistricting plan that packs Black voters into two super-majority wards and creates three safe majority-White wards.  The plan thus maintains White-majority control over the City Council in majority-Black Hattiesburg, a city characterized by extremely racially-polarized voting patterns.

Despite the fact that the plan leaves Hattiesburg’s majority-Black population with only two of five seats on the Council (40%), the District Court incorrectly held that the City Council was “roughly proportional” and upheld the plan.  In doing so, the District Court failed to acknowledge far more proportional options such as creating a third majority-Black or a competitive ward.  The District Court treated this alleged “proportionality” as an improper safe harbor for Defendants despite Plaintiffs’ probative evidence of vote dilution. 

“This is exactly the kind of redistricting plan that the Voting Rights Act is meant to prohibit. It dilutes Black voting strength and deprives Black citizens in Hattiesburg of an equal opportunity to effectively participate in the political process,” said Campaign Legal Center Legal Fellow Danielle Lang.  “Ultimately, White voters, a minority in Hattiesburg, can always elect three of their candidates of choice to control the City Council while Black voters, the largest voting bloc in Hattiesburg, only have the opportunity to elect a minority of Council members.  This is not equality of opportunity by any measure.”

The legal team representing the Hattiesburg voters in the appeal also includes the New York Law School’s Racial Justice Project and Ellis Turnage, a civil rights litigator in Mississippi.

To read the brief, click here.

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