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VOL. 127 | NO. 182 | Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Judges Uphold East Arkansas Senate Redistricting

ANDREW DeMILLO | Associated Press

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) – A federal court on Monday rejected a state senator's claim that a redistricting panel intentionally diluted the black vote in his district, ruling the decrease stemmed from politics but not racial discrimination.

A three-judge panel upheld the boundaries for the east Arkansas district currently held by Democratic Sen. Jack Crumbly. The judges rejected a lawsuit by Crumbly and residents in his district who said the Board of Apportionment violated the U.S. Constitution by lowering the number of voting-age blacks.

Crumbly accused the board of intentionally lowering the black voting age population from 55 percent to about 53 percent. Crumbly, who is black, lost to state Rep. Keith Ingram, who is white, in the May primary for his Senate seat. No Republican is running in the district.

The maps for Arkansas' 100 House and 35 Senate seats are drawn by the Board of Apportionment. The board is made up of Gov. Mike Beebe, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel and Secretary of State Mark Martin.

The legislative maps were approved on a 2-1 vote last year. McDaniel and Beebe, both Democrats, voted for the plan. Martin, a Republican, opposed it and has argued he shouldn't be held responsible for the map because of that opposition.

The judges said evidence showed the decrease in black voting age population likely was an unintended consequence of the Democrats' political concerns, not racial animus.

"This may be regrettable, but it is not unconstitutional," the ruling said.

Beebe said he hadn't yet read the ruling but was pleased with the panel's decision.

"There wasn't any intent to discriminate. It was just the opposite," Beebe told reporters at the state Capitol. "It was trying to maintain those districts, and the court saw it that way."

The maps approved reduced the number of majority black House districts from 13 to 11 and maintained four majority black Senate districts.

McDaniel said he was grateful for the court's ruling and said the panel's maps were drawn to meet "sound, legal redistricting principles."

"Though population shifts in the Delta required the district to be redrawn, there was never any racial discrimination in the creation of that district or any others," McDaniel said in a statement released by his office.

During a hearing in May, Crumbly's attorneys argued that the redistricting map was crafted to help Ingram in his bid for the seat. The panel rejected that argument.

"We find credible Governor Beebe's and Attorney General McDaniel's testimony that they did not engage in intentional discrimination or know that Representative Ingram, or any other white incumbent, would run for senator against Senator Crumbly in Senate District 24 at the time that the district map was drawn," the ruling said.

Crumbly did not immediately return a call Monday morning. James Valley, Crumbly's attorney, said he did not know if he would appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court but said he believed the decision would deter African Americans in the area from voting or running for office.

"It's probably going to keep the racial divide pretty deep in this part of the country," Valley said.

The judges in May dismissed Martin from the part of the suit that accused the panel of intentional discrimination, and has argued he wanted a higher percentage of black voters in the district. Former Congressman Asa Hutchinson, who represented Martin in the case, said he was disappointed with the court's ruling.

"It makes it much more easy for minority representation to be diluted by the political actions of a Board of Apportionment and there's no legal remedy for that," Hutchinson said.

In the ruling, the judges noted Beebe said he discarded most of Martin's suggestions during the redistricting process.

"We stress that our determination that no illegal vote dilution or intentional discrimination occurred does not mean that the plaintiffs did not raise important concerns about the Arkansas redistricting process," the judges said in their ruling. "Because the board acted within the bounds of the law, those concerns are for the voters of Arkansas, not for the courts of the United States, to address."

Andrew DeMillo can be reached at www.twitter.com/ademillo

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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