JACKSON, Miss. (AP) -- Mississippi is perpetuating a legacy of racial discrimination because lawmakers failed to draw enough majority-Black districts for the state House and Senate, civil rights advocates say in a lawsuit filed Tuesday.
The Mississippi NAACP and five Black residents of Mississippi filed the suit in federal court in Jackson, challenging districts that are scheduled to be used in the 2023 election. The suit comes six weeks before candidates' qualifying deadline of Feb. 1.
The suit says redistricting plans for the 122-member House and the 52-member Senate will dilute the voting power of Black people in a state with the largest percentage of Black residents.
"Mississippi's newest maps are a continuation of the state's long history of disenfranchising Black voters," Janette McCarthy Wallace, general counsel for the NAACP, said in a news release. "Black voices were not heard in the redistricting process and these districts, which break up Black communities and limit their electoral voice, are the result. If our elections are to be just, equitable and fair, it is imperative that all Mississippians have a fair opportunity to elect candidates that reflect their communities and are responsive to their needs."
Political districts are redrawn after each census to account for population changes during the previous decade. Mississippi's Republican-led House and Senate unveiled redistricting plans in late March and approved them days later, at the end of the legislative session.
Senate President Pro Tempore Dean Kirby, a Republican from Pearl, led the Senate redistricting effort and is a defendant in the lawsuit. Kirby told The Associated Press on Tuesday that maintaining majority-Black districts was challenging because the Delta lost 65,000 residents.
"I can't imagine a more fair redistricting resolution than the one that we passed," Kirby said. He said the Black lawmakers he talked to about the plan "were very, very pleased" with it.
Historical voting patterns in Mississippi show districts with higher populations of white residents tend to lean toward Republicans and districts with higher populations of Black residents tend to lean toward Democrats.
Mississippi's population is about 59% white and 38% Black, according to the Census Bureau.
In the redistricting plan adopted this year, 15 of the 52 Senate districts and 42 of the 122 House districts are majority-Black. Those make up 29% of the Senate districts and 34% of the House districts.
The lawsuit says legislators could have drawn at least four more majority-Black districts in the Senate and at least three more in the House.
The other defendants in the lawsuit are Republican Rep. Dan Eubanks of Walls, who helped lead redistricting efforts in the House; and the three members of the state Board of Election Commissioners, all Republicans -- Gov. Tate Reeves, Attorney General Lynn Fitch and Secretary of State Michael Watson.
Because legislative redistricting is done through a resolution rather than a bill, the governor did not have the power to sign or veto the plans.