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State of Mississippi argues it cannot create new Black voting districts by 2025 session

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State of Mississippi argues it cannot create new Black voting districts by 2025 session


Mississippi state leadership is arguing that legislative district boundaries currently violating federal voting laws should remain in place for another year.

The Mississippi State Board of Election Commissioners is asking the Mississippi U.S. Court for the Southern District for more time before holding special elections in light of a ruling that Mississippi’s 2022 redistricting plan diluted Black voting power and violated the U.S. Voting Rights Act. They argue they simply cannot hold those elections before 2025, as currently demanded by the court.

The suit was initially filed by the Mississippi Conference of the NAACP against the state election commission in 2022.

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The court is now demanding the state to create three Black majority districts and hold special elections to vote in two new members of the Mississippi Senate and one in the Mississippi House of Representatives by 2025.

In response, the state election commission, consisting of Republicans Gov. Tate Reeves, Mississippi Secretary of State Michael Watson and Attorney General Lynn Fitch said the state should give the Legislature a chance to redistrict the state during the 2025 legislative session and then hold special elections.

Read about July 2 ruling Federal court orders Mississippi to create more Black districts by 2025, asks for elections

“Defendants respectfully maintain that the only sound way for the Mississippi Legislature to be afforded its well-established first opportunity to redraw districts is to give it a reasonable amount of time following the commencement of the 2025 Regular Legislative Session (on January 7, 2025) and that any elections for affected districts should follow promptly after that,” the response reads. “Given fundamental limitations on a court’s equitable authority (particularly this close to an election) and other relevant considerations (practical, political, logistical, and legal) no more expeditious remedy is available.”

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Rob McDuff, director of the Impact Litigation Initiative at the Mississippi Center for Justice, told the Clarion Ledger Thursday that the state would continue to block voting rights for Black people if that election is held next fall.

“The federal court has made it clear that the creation of these districts is necessary to enforce the Voting Rights Act, and as the court indicated that needs to be done as soon as possible,” McDuff said. “Otherwise, people’s right to vote will continue to be denied.”

McDuff added that because there won’t be any elections in 2025, the 2024 election cycle is the perfect time to both do this to ensure Black people are properly represented in Mississippi and for election workers.

“Doing it now means higher turnout, and it makes life a lot easier for the election officials that are required to put on these elections,” McDuff said.

Legislative redistricting occurs every 10 years after the federal census. In 2022, lawmakers voted to approve the new redistricting plan. In the suit filed in 2022, groups representing the NAACP argued that Black voters were piled into districts and their voting strength was diluted because of it.

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The state has a Black population of about 38%. As of 2024, there are 42-Black majority districts in the 122-member House (34.4%) and 15 Black majority districts in the 52-member Senate (28.8%).

From 1965 until the mid 2010s, the federal government oversaw the state’s redistricting plans. The 2022 redistricting was the first time in state history since the Voting Rights Act that it was allowed to fully decide its own plan. Previously, A federal judge drew the congressional districts in 2002 because legislators could not agree on a map, and again in 2011 because legislators felt they didn’t have enough time to do it during session.

MSOS Communications Director Liz Jonson told the Clarion Ledger that Watson is not issuing any comment on the case because of the ongoing litigation.

As of the time of publication, the court had not issued a response to the state’s request.

Grant McLaughlin covers state government for the Clarion Ledger. He can be reached at gmclaughlin@gannett.com or 972-571-2335.

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Mississippi

Episcopal bishop, who preached at wedding of Prince Harry, to preside at Mississippi ordination

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Episcopal bishop, who preached at wedding of Prince Harry, to preside at Mississippi ordination



Bishop of the Episcopal Church Michael Curry presides over ceremony

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Dorothy Sanders Wells will make history on Saturday as the first woman and first Black person to become the Episcopal Bishop of Mississippi. 

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Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church in the United States, Michael Curry, known for delivering the famous sermon on the power of love at the wedding of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, arrived in Mississippi on Friday ahead of the ordination and consecration of Reverend Wells that he will preside over. 

“I’m still really just filled with awe that God has called me to this ministry,” Wells said on Friday, one day before she goes from Bishop-elect to Bishop of Mississippi. 

Wells said she has been doing a lot of traveling within the diocese and already begun forming relationships with religious leaders and constituents. 

For Wells, this moment is both historic and personal. 

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“My great grandfather, I’m told, never learned to read or write, but he understood the significance of education for his family,” Wells said. 

When there was no school for his daughter, Wells’ grandmother, to attend, he built a school on his land to make sure everyone in the community could get an education. 

“I would want to think that today, if he were able to see all of this, he would say, ‘I did a good thing. I invested in the future of my family, and I did a good thing,’” she said. “A lot of us have gone on to really rather extraordinary things to come from a man who couldn’t read or write and who himself was born into slavery.” 

More on Rev. Wells: Episcopal bishop in Mississippi speaks out on women’s role in church, LGBTQ pastors

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Wells said her first priority as bishop will be getting out into the community and building relationships. She wants people to see their bishop more frequently because official visits from the bishop are few and far between.

Curry, who made history as the first Black person to serve as Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, emphasized that Wells represents what the Episcopal Church strives to be. 

“We are a church of great variety, of great diversity, and as time marches on, we will find that the Church will grow and make a difference as we embrace all sorts and conditions of God’s humanity,” Curry said, adding the Wells will help not only Mississippi, but the Episcopal Church across the nation and world. 

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“Bishop-elect Wells’ election, consecration — that’s the picture of leading this incredible diocese, which has always been at the forefront of doing good in this world,” he said.



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Mississippi State players embracing new college football video game

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Mississippi State players embracing new college football video game


DALLAS — After a long day of summer workouts on Tuesday, it was finally game time for Mississippi State offensive lineman Albert Reese IV.

No, not in real life — the Bulldogs don’t open the 2024 season until Aug. 31 against Eastern Kentucky — but in the newly-released EA Sports College Football 25 video game.

“I played it for four hours, as soon as I got home from workouts and being at the facility,” Reese said Wednesday at Southeastern Conference Media Days. “It was cool seeing myself on there. I was never a huge Madden guy, but I played it a little bit, and I always wondered how it would feel being an NFL player, being able to see yourself on there, so it’s cool to experience that.”

EA Sports released a college football video game every year from 1993 until 2014, initially called Bill Walsh College Football and later renamed College Football USA before becoming “NCAA Football” for the 1998 edition. Because college football players could not be paid or sign endorsement deals, player names and likenesses were not used; instead, they were simply designated by their position and jersey number.

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The game was discontinued after the 2014 version, but after the United States Supreme Court ruled in 2021 that college athletes could benefit from their name, image and likeness, fans began clamoring for an updated version of the game, and EA obliged, including players’ real names and likenesses for the first time. College Football 25 launched Monday, with the standard version releasing Friday.

“I played with myself (Tuesday) for the first time,” quarterback Blake Shapen said. “I’m not a big gamer, but I did have to play the game because that’s pretty cool to be able to be in a college football game. I’m sure they’ll have a system up there for us to play, so I’m sure there will be a lot of competing going on in there.”

MSU is coming off a 5-7 season, so despite significant roster turnover on both sides of the ball, only three Bulldog players — center Ethan Miner (89), wide receiver Kelly Akharaiyi (84) and running back Davon Booth (82) — are rated higher than an 80 overall. Of the three players MSU sent to Dallas for media days, Reese is rated a 73, Shapen is an 80 and linebacker John Lewis is a 78.

Reese had not played against a teammate as of Wednesday morning, but Lewis said his linebacker mate Ty Cooper is an excellent player. According to Lewis, safety Kelley Jones, wide receiver Kevin Coleman and defensive lineman De’Monte Russell are all fun to play with despite none of them having a rating higher than 77.

“I play with Mississippi State all the time,” Lewis said. “They could’ve given me an 80 overall. I got a 78. But it was great. I like playing and I’m glad it’s out. A lot of guys on the team (are) good. Javae Gilmore, (he’s) overpowering, outrageous. I don’t know why, but he’s outrageous. Chris Keys, outrageous. He hits too hard in the game. It’s a lot of guys on our team who are really good.”

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The Bulldogs’ players are enjoying the game now, but head coach Jeff Lebby emphasized that once fall camp gets started, the focus will be on real, not virtual, football.

“We said it on the plane on the way over here (to Dallas),” Lebby said. “You need to play now, because you won’t be playing in camp.”

Quality, in-depth journalism is essential to a healthy community. The Dispatch brings you the most complete reporting and insightful commentary in the Golden Triangle, but we need your help to continue our efforts. In the past week, our reporters have posted 45 articles to cdispatch.com. Please consider subscribing to our website for only $2.30 per week to help support local journalism and our community.



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Court says voting ban for felons in Mississippi can be altered by lawmakers, not judges

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Court says voting ban for felons in Mississippi can be altered by lawmakers, not judges


(AP) – Mississippi legislators, not the courts, must decide whether to change the state’s practice of stripping voting rights from people convicted of certain felonies, including nonviolent crimes such as forgery and timber theft, a federal appeals court ruled Thursday.

The state’s original list of disenfranchising crimes springs from the Jim Crow era, and attorneys who sued to challenge the list say authors of the Mississippi Constitution removed voting rights for crimes they thought Black people were more likely to commit.

A majority of judges on the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals wrote that the Supreme Court in 1974 reaffirmed constitutional law allowing states to disenfranchise felons.

“Do the hard work of persuading your fellow citizens that the law should change,” the majority wrote.

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Nineteen judges of the appeals court heard arguments in January, months after vacating a ruling issued last August by a three-judge panel of the same court. The panel had said Mississippi’s ban on voting after certain crimes violates the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

In the ruling Thursday, dissenting judges wrote that the majority stretched the previous Supreme Court ruling “beyond all recognition.” The dissenting judges wrote that Mississippi’s practice of disenfranchising people who have completed their sentences is cruel and unusual.

Tens of thousands of Mississippi residents are disenfranchised under a part of the state constitution that says those convicted of 10 specific felonies, including bribery, theft, arson and bigamy, lose the right to vote. Under a previous state attorney general, who was a Democrat, the list was expanded to 22 crimes, including timber larceny — felling and stealing trees from someone else’s property — and carjacking.

About 38% of Mississippi residents are Black, according to the Census Bureau. Nearly 50,000 people were disenfranchised under Mississippi’s felony voting ban between 1994 and 2017, and about 59% of them were Black, according to an expert who analyzed data for plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging the ban.

To have their voting rights restored, people convicted of any of the crimes must get a pardon from the governor, which rarely happens, or persuade lawmakers to pass individual bills just for them with two-thirds approval. Lawmakers in recent years have passed few of those bills. They passed 17 this year and none in 2023.

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In March, a Mississippi Senate committee leader killed a proposal that would have allowed automatic restoration of voting rights five years after a person is convicted or released from prison for some nonviolent felonies. The bill passed the Republican-controlled House 99-9, but Senate Constitution Committee Chairwoman Angela Hill said she blocked it because “we already have some processes in place” to restore voting rights person by person.

In 1950, Mississippi dropped burglary from the list of disenfranchising crimes. Murder and rape were added in 1968. Two lawsuits in recent years have challenged Mississippi’s felony disenfranchisement.

Attorneys representing the state in one lawsuit argued that the changes in 1950 and 1968 “cured any discriminatory taint.” The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals court agreed in 2022, and the Supreme Court said in June 2023 that it would not reconsider the appeals court’s decision.

People who challenged Mississippi’s felony voting ban are “exploring next steps” after Thursday’s ruling, said Jon Youngwood, co-chairman of the litigation department at the Simpson Thacher & Bartlett law firm.

“We are heartened by the opinion of the six dissenting judges, which encapsulates the importance of this case,” Youngwood said in a statement. “As they write, voting is ‘the lifeblood of our democracy.’ Denying broad groups of our citizens, for life, the ability to have a role in determining who governs them diminishes our society and deprives individuals of the full rights of representative government.”

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The 5th Circuit is one of the most conservative appeals courts. It is based in New Orleans and handles cases from Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

The 19 judges who heard the arguments in January include 17 on active, full-time status, and two on senior status with limited caseloads and responsibilities.

The majority opinion was written by Judge Edith Jones, who was nominated by Republican former President Ronald Reagan and is still on active status. The result was agreed to by the 11 other active judges appointed by GOP presidents. A nominee of Democratic President Joe Biden, Judge Irma Ramirez, voted with the majority to reject the earlier panel decision.

The dissent was written by Judge James Dennis, who was nominated by former President Bill Clinton and now is on senior status. He was joined by Senior Judge Carolyn Dineen King, nominated by former President Jimmy Carter, and five other Democratic nominees on active service with the court.

Dennis, King and Jones made up the three-member panel whose 2-1 decision was reversed.

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