- Associated Press - Thursday, August 13, 2015

HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) - A federal judge ruled that the redrawing of voting ward lines in Hattiesburg ‘did not dilute the voting or political power of African-American citizens.’

The Hattiesburg American reports (http://hatne.ws/1L7FnbY) U.S. District Court Judge Keith Starrett issued a memorandum opinion Tuesday saying that a 2012 redistricting plan that retained “three, majority-white wards and two majority-black wards, despite the city’s slight African-American majority” did not violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

“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,” Starrett wrote.

The civil suit, filed on Feb. 1, 2013, marked the second time in the past eight years that black Hattiesburg residents/voters sued over the drawing of the lines in the five city wards. Both times, arguments that redistricting in Hattiesburg had harmed black voters were dismissed.

“You’re always pleased when you are charged with a task such as this and that there’s vindication that the council did it correctly,” Ward 3 Councilman Carter Carroll said. “We followed all the rules and regulations.”

What did bother Carroll was the amount of taxpayers’ money spent in the two lawsuits.

Carroll said the 2008 decision, which was affirmed by the Mississippi Supreme Court in 2009, cost the city about $600,000.

The 2013 suit, which featured a three-day trial in October, could cost taxpayers’ more, especially if Starrett’s opinion is appealed.

“Right now, we’re looking at $400,000, $500,000,” Carroll said. “We’re probably a tick over $1.1 million right now with the two (suits).

“It’s just a shame to spend this much of the taxpayers’ money. That’s a lot of paving that could be done. You could give raises.”

The suit arose out of the plan adopted by council to redraw the city’s ward lines following the 2010 census.

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Information from: The Hattiesburg American, http://www.hattiesburgamerican.com

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