March 3, 2009
Federal judges have agreed that black Noxubee County Democrats led by Ike Brown are guilty of election fraud and discrimination to keep whites out of county government.
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Friday affirmed a Mississippi federal judge''s 2007 decision banning Brown and the Noxubee County Democratic Executive Committee from running party elections through 2011.
This is the first federal case in the country of blacks accused of violating whites'' voting rights.
Chief among the charges against Brown and other committee members are allegations they stuffed absentee-ballot boxes with bogus votes and blocked whites from challenging those votes.
"Defendants, through abusing their supervisory role over the absentee-ballot process, have denied white Democrats the opportunity to elect representatives of their choice," 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Carolyn King wrote for the New Orleans-based court.
U.S. District Judge Tom Lee in 2007 agreed with the U.S. Justice Department that Brown led these efforts in Noxubee County as head of the Democratic Party since 2000.
In Brown''s appeal, King and two other judges hearing the case rejected the county party chairman''s request to overturn Lee''s ruling that black Democrats violated the rights of white voters.
About 70 percent of Noxubee County''s population is black, according to the U.S. Census.
The Court of Appeals said Brown tried to reach an "honorable goal of electing black candidates" by unlawfully invalidating white votes.
"To champion the cause of black candidates by abusing the supervisory authority over elections in order to undermine the value of white voters'' ballots breaches the boundary between acceptable political activity and unacceptable electoral abuse," King wrote.
Lee in 2007 banned Brown from running the county''s Democratic primaries and ordered him to stay out of the election process except to vote. The federal judge appointed former state Supreme Court Justice Reuben Anderson as Noxubee County''s superintendent of elections through 2011 for party primaries.
Brown can ask the full 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider the decision or take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, but his attorney, Wil Colom of Columbus, said he doubts further appeals will be made.
"Enough energy has gone into this with absolutely no change," said Colom, pointing to problems still existing in Noxubee County elections like before.
"I think Ike actually likes having someone else to blame for the messy elections."
The court of appeals rejected the county Democratic Party leaders'' contention that barring them from participating in election primaries violates their freedom of political expression.
"Defendants may still carry on in their capacity as the local leaders of the Democratic party by, for example, raising funds, endorsing candidates, campaigning for candidates, organizing party meetings and speaking out on political issues," King said.
The case is a civil suit filed by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2005 and carries no criminal penalties.
To read the 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, go to its Web site: http://www.ca5.uscourts.gov/Opinions.aspx?View=Last7.