- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 14, 2007

A federal judge is expected to rule soon on a lawsuit by the Justice Department seeking an end to “relentless voting-related discrimination” by political leaders in a rural Mississippi county — the first suit brought under the Voting Rights Act of 1965 accusing blacks of suppressing the rights of whites.

Senior U.S. District Judge Tom S. Lee in Jackson, Miss., heard arguments in the case in January, without a jury, and gave attorneys for the government and the county until last week to file final briefs.

The government’s lawsuit targets Ike Brown, longtime political boss of Noxubee County, Miss., who serves as chairman of the Democratic Executive Committee and superintendent of Democratic primary elections, and Carl Mickens, circuit clerk for Noxubee County and superintendent of non-primary elections.

The two black officials are accused of engaging in a “pattern of discriminatory action” over a period of several years that resulted in the denial of the rights of white citizens of Noxubee County to “participate in the political process and to elect candidates of their choice.”

The case has pitted the county’s black-controlled political power structure against government prosecutors, who have accused Mr. Brown and his backers of seeking to rig elections to guarantee that white candidates lost.

The lawsuit was filed in February 2005 in the wake of a two-year Justice Department investigation into suspected voting irregularities in the county. The department seeks a permanent injunction to prevent any discrimination against voters based on race.

Noxubee County is about 100 miles northeast of Jackson, the state capital, on the Alabama border. Its 12,548 residents are 69 percent black and 29 percent white, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The lawsuit said “racially polarized” discrimination in the county affected 2,826 white persons of voting age.

Mr. Brown and Mr. Mickens have denied government’s accusations that they conspired against white voters and candidates, saying whites lose in local elections because they are in the minority.

But the Justice Department has said white voters and candidates, along with those who supported them, experienced “relentless voting-related racial discrimination” at the direction of Mr. Brown, Mr. Mickens and others acting in concert with them, and that they recruited and qualified black candidates from outside Noxubee County to run against white candidates they knew “did not qualify under state residency laws.”

It also has said Mr. Mickens manipulated and permitted Mr. Brown to tamper with voter registration polls; Mr. Brown attempted to prohibit white voters from voting in Democratic primaries; Mr. Brown and Mr. Mickens discriminated against whites in the selection of persons to work as poll managers and workers; and Mr. Mickens treated voters in a “hostile and intimidating manner” after they went to the courthouse to vote absentee ballots.

Mr. Brown, a former tax preparer, served 21 months in prison in the 1990s on a felony conviction of preparing fraudulent federal income-tax returns.

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