Lawsuit: Race used improperly in redistricting

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The Hinds County Republican Party and the county’s only white supervisor are suing four black county supervisors, charging race was used improperly as a factor in redrawing district voting lines.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Jackson, claims the majority-black Hinds County Board of Supervisors used “impermissible racial considerations” when redrawing district lines.

The redistricting plan for the supervisors was adopted in February 2011.

The lawsuit claims that George Smith, who was then president of the Hinds County Board of Supervisors, admitted to Pete Perry, the county Republican Party’s chairman, that race was the consideration in drawing new district lines for black voting populations.

“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.

In a telephone interview Thursday, Smith denied making that statement.

“There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that statement, but I didn’t make it,” Smith said.

Perry said the comment came in response to his complaints about the board hiring the president of the Mississippi NAACP as a consultant to handle redistricting.

Smith also denied that race was the motivating factor in the way the districts were redrawn. He said the supervisors were simply trying to balance the populations of each district, as required by law.

“The redistricting had nothing to do with race, gender or creed,” he said.

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

The four current black supervisors are named as defendants. None of them responded to messages left at their offices Thursday.

The county’s lone white elected supervisor is Phil Fisher. John Reeves, an attorney for Fisher and the Hinds County Republican Party, declined to comment when reached Thursday at his office.

Board President Robert Graham said Thursday that the Justice Department signed off on the districting map and it will be used unless a court says otherwise. He said the plan is “doable, logical and acceptable.”

Hinds County, home to the state capital, has a population that is 69 percent black and 29 percent white, according to the 2010 Census. The Census data is used every 10 years to redraw district lines.

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 alleges that four supervisors violated open meetings laws by getting together behind closed doors to decide which district plan they wanted.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.