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4 Blacks Win Judgeships in Court-Ordered Elections

June 22, 1989|From Associated Press

JACKSON, Miss. — Four of eight black candidates have won judgeships in elections ordered by a federal judge who had ruled that Mississippi's judicial districts discriminated against blacks. Two of the winners were opposed.

Mississippi will now have five blacks among its 78 judges, a gain of one after Tuesday's elections. One incumbent was defeated.

The state's four black judges are Supreme Court Justice Reuben Anderson, Circuit Judges Fred L. Banks Jr. and Lillie Blackmon-Sanders and Chancery Judge Isaac Byrd.

Each was appointed to fill a vacancy, but Anderson won a full eight-year term in 1986; he was not up for election Tuesday. Byrd did not seek election, Banks was unopposed and Blackmon-Sanders was challenged.

With 98% of the vote in, unofficial returns showed Blackmon-Sanders losing to Republican challenger Richard Watson, 12,878 votes to 9,600. One other black Democrat, Isadore W. Patrick Vicksburg, was unopposed in the general election.

The two black winners in contested races were Pat Wise, a Democrat, who defeated Republican Billy W. Keyes for an open Hinds County chancery judge's post, 5,942 votes to 1,638; and Denise Sweet Owens, also a Democrat, who defeated Republican George M. Arthur in an open family court post, 4,628 votes to 1,259.

Black candidates Solomon Curtis Osborne, Clell G. Ward and Harold Brittain all lost to incumbents.

Voting Rights Act Applied

U.S. District Judge William H. Barbour Jr. ruled in 1987 that Mississippi's judicial districts discriminated against blacks. The ruling, the first to apply the 1965 Voting Rights Act to judicial elections, was upheld on appeal.

Barbour ordered some districts redrawn to create minority subdistricts so that black voters would have a better opportunity to elect black judges.

Those judges elected Tuesday will take office on July 3.

Mississippians also finally removed from the state Constitution an unenforceable poll tax that was enacted years ago to keep blacks from voting but was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1966.

The unofficial returns had 99,648 voting for repeal of the tax and 72,844 against repeal.

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