At a Tupelo campaign stop on Monday, Mississippi State Rep. Mark Baker, a Republican candidate for attorney general, said the 1965 Voting Rights Act violated Mississippi's "sovereignty."
Current Attorney General Jim Hood, Baker said, should have joined other red states that successfully petitioned the Supreme Court to strike down the VRA's preclearance requirements in 2013.
"With preclearance, Mississippi and a few other southern states were put in a group and (told), 'You cannot manage your own elections. Your sovereignty is of no value at the federal level,'" Baker, who represents Brandon in the state House, said. "Our attorney general decided that the federal government's thumb on our elections was important in this day and time."
Under preclearance, the U.S. Department of Justice had to approve any changes to voting laws in certain southern states like Mississippi. When it passed the act in 1965, Congress singled out those states because of their notorious history of denying African Americans the right to vote.
The Daily Journal's Caleb Bedillion first reported Baker's comments on Thursday.
Hood, who is a Democratic candidate for governor, did not respond to a request for comment Friday afternoon.
'A Code Word for White Supremacy'
Stephanie Rolph, a Millsaps historian who focuses on the South's history of segregation and its opposition to civil rights, told the Jackson Free Press on Friday that Baker's comments hearkened back to the era she studies.
"The use of the word 'sovereignty' certainly would have been a code word for white supremacy in the 1950s or 1960s," she said. "State sovereignty and states' rights were phrases often used to mark resistance to civil-rights advancements in terms of federal legislation."
Preclearance was a necessary step to remedy southern defiance when it came to voting rights, she said.
"Many southern states had thrived in the isolation and the darkness that local officials could extend to registration