HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans ruled Hattiesburg's current ward plan "does not dilute the voting or political power of African-American citizens."
The lawsuit against the city was filed by Rev. Kenneth Fairley, Rev. D. Franklin Browne, Dennis Henderson, Carlos Wilson, Fred Burns, Charles Bartley and Clarence Magee who argued the city's redistricting following the 2010 census, which showed African-Americans make up a slight majority of both the total and voting-age population of Hattiesburg, was discriminatory. Hattiesburg has three majority-white districts (Wards 1, 3 and 4) and two majority black wards (Wards 2 and 5).
The appellate court upheld the district court ruling, which concluded "Hattiesburg's current ward plan does not practically hinder African-Americans' opportunity to participate in the political process and elect representatives of their choice. The evidence demonstrates that African-Americans in Hattiesburg enjoy political power in rough proportion to their share of the voting-age population, and that they actively exercise such power through the political process."
The district court summarized its initial conclusion, saying:
Chief Judge for U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit Carl Stewart also stated in his dissent "the language of the district court's opinion strongly evinces that the repeated success of black mayor Johnny DuPree in exogenous mayoral elections was an essential, if not dispositive, consideration in the court's determination that no (Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act) violation existed."
Fairley filed a similar lawsuits against the city in 2008 and 2013. The 2008 suit stemmed from Hattiesburg's 2004 redistricting plan. U.S. District Judge Keith Starrett ruled in favor of the city in that case, and it was upheld by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2009. U.S. District Court also ruled in favor of the city in the 2013 lawsuit.
Hattiesburg City Council President Carter Carroll said he was pleased with the ruling, but not surprised by it. He said Hattiesburg redistricted in the same way it did the first time the U.S. District Court and Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in the city's favor.
Carroll said he feels the people who filed the lawsuit did the people of Hattiesburg a disservice because the money the city spent defending itself in court could have been spent on things like city employee raises, street paving or water and sewer infrastructure.