JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A federal judge has ruled that a majority-black county in eastern Mississippi violated whites' voting rights in what prosecutors said is the first lawsuit to use the Voting Rights Act on behalf of whites.
U.S. District Judge Tom S. Lee ruled late Friday that Noxubee County Democratic Party leader Ike Brown and the county Democratic Executive Committee "manipulated the political process in ways specifically intended and designed to impair and impede participation of white voters and to dilute their votes."
The Justice Department accused Mr. Brown of trying to limit whites' participation in local elections in violation of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, written to protect racial minorities when Southern states strictly enforced segregation.
"Every American has the right to vote free from racial discrimination," said Wan J. Kim, assistant attorney general for the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division.
"The court's ruling is another victory in the department's vigorous efforts to protect the voting rights of all Americans," Mr. Kim said.
Noxubee County is a rural area along the Alabama line with a population of about 12,500, of whom 70 percent are black.
Mr. Brown did not return calls yesterday from the Associated Press seeking comment.
The Justice Department charged in the 2006 lawsuit that Noxubee County blacks tried to shut whites out of the voting process.
Mr. Brown claimed that the Justice Department was misconstruing his attempts to keep Republicans from voting in Democratic primaries as racial intimidation.
Judge Lee, who presided over the case without a jury, gave attorneys on both sides until July 29 to file briefs suggesting how to end the discrimination. The case was a civil matter carrying no criminal penalties, but defendants who violate Judge Lee's final order could face contempt of court charges and fines, prosecutors said.
The judge said there was a pattern to Mr. Brown's efforts to keep all whites out of the county's Democratic Party, including holding party caucuses in private homes rather than public voting precincts and inviting only blacks to the meetings.
"If the same facts were presented to the court on behalf of the rights of black voters, this court would find that [the Voting Rights Act] was violated," Judge Lee said in his ruling.
He said he could not find that the defendants had a specific animosity against white people.
"Brown, in fact, claims a number of whites as friends," Judge Lee wrote. "However, there is no doubt from the evidence presented at trial that Brown, in particular, is firmly of the view that blacks, being the majority race in Noxubee County, should hold all elected offices, to the exclusion of whites; and this view is apparently shared by his allies and associates on the [Noxubee Democratic Executive Commitee], who, along with Brown, effectively control the election process in Noxubee County."