On Monday, in a ruling in favor an appeal by the State Election Commission, the United States Court of Appeals ruled that the redistricting lawsuit filed in July 2018 to redraw the lines of a singular state senate seat, Senate District 22, will be heard by the entire 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. Should the court overturn the lower ruling, Mississippi faces the possibility of having the upcoming November 2019 election for that seat vacated and subject to a re-election in 2020.
The suit was originally filed by Joseph Thomas, Vernon Ayers and Melvin Lawson. The suit challenged Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act in regards to the SD 22 boundaries and sought to force the lines to be redrawn with a higher Black Voting Age Population (BVAP). The plaintiffs claimed that as the lines stand, they “dilute African American voting strength and deprive African American voters of an equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice.”
“I am encouraged that the entire 5th Circuit will hear this case.We believe the drawing of District Lines for the Mississippi House and Senate are the responsibility of the Ms. Legislature and not one member of the Federal Judiciary,” said Governor Phil Bryant who appealed the initial ruling.
US District Judge Carlton Reeves, appointed by President Obama, originally suggested districts if the legislature wouldn’t voluntarily redraw them. During the 2019 Legislative Session the House and Senate agreed to a plan that would redraw the lines of SD 22 and SD 13 in compliance with the ruling.
Originally, a three judge panel at the 5th Circuit heard the appeal and upheld the lower court ruling. However, after a dissent from panel 5th Circuit Judge Edith Clement that made note of the politics at work even on the Court, other judges took notice and that is what has presumably led to the en banc hearing. As a result of the recent opinion, the 5th Circuit panel ruling has been vacated.
The case appeared before Chief Judge Jones, Judge Stewart, Judge Smith, Judge Dennis, Judge Owen, Judge Elrod, Judge Haynes, Judge Higginson, Judge Costa, Judge Willett, judge Ho, Judge Duncan, Judge Engelhardt. Judge’s Southwick and Graves were recused and did not participate in the decision.
The candidates for SD 22 include Republican Hayes Dent and Democrat Thomas Joseph Thomas, who is a plaintiff in the lawsuit in question. They will be joined by independent candidates Terrence Edison Jr. and Calvin Stewart on the general election ballot.
The hearing has been tentatively set for January 20, 2020.