Black supervisors ask judge to toss redistricting lawsuit

JACKSON — The four black elected supervisors in Mississippi’s most populated county asked a federal judge yesterday to dismiss a lawsuit accusing them of improperly using race as a consideration in redrawing voting districts.

The lawsuit against the black members of the Hinds County Board of Supervisors was filed Sept. 19 in U.S. District Court in Jackson by Phil Fisher, the board’s only white representative, and the Hinds County Republican Party.

Among other things, the motion to dismiss said Fisher sued in his official capacity as a supervisor when “gerrymandering” lawsuits must be filed by an affected voter. Gerrymandering is drawing voting lines to give advantage to a certain group.

“Since Mr. Fisher failed to allege that he is a white citizen and voter in a district that was racially gerrymandered for the benefit of African-Americans, he lacks standing,” the motion said.

Similarly, the motion argues that “the Republican Party did not allege that it has white members who were discriminated against by the majority black Board of Supervisors.”

An attorney for Fisher and the Republican Party did not immediately respond to a message yesterday.

Voting districts are adjusted every 10 years based on census data. Hinds County’s plan was adopted in February 2011.

The lawsuit claims there was little shift in the population of Hinds County’s voting districts for supervisors and there was no need for major changes. But supervisors approved a plan that increased the black population of most districts and split the city of Clinton, which had previously been in one district, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit also claims that George Smith, who was then president of the board, admitted to Pete Perry, the county Republican Party’s chairman, that race was the consideration in drawing new district lines for black voting populations. Perry said the admission came in response to his complaints about the board hiring the president of the Mississippi NAACP as a redistricting consultant.

“Look Pete, this is a black county, we have black leadership, we are going to hire black people, and elect black people. Get over it,” Smith said, according to the lawsuit. Smith has denied saying that, but also has said there’s “nothing necessarily wrong with that statement.”

Smith lost the election to another black man last year and is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit.

Board President Robert Graham has said the districting map is fair and the U.S. Justice Department signed off on the plan so it will be used unless a court says otherwise.

Hinds County, home to the state capital, has a population that is 69 percent black and 29 percent white, according to the 2010 Census.

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