Mississippi's Redistricting News
"Federal Panel May Seek Redistricting Plan B." December 29, 2001
A panel of federal judges voiced concerns Friday over Mississippi's troubled congressional redistricting process and worried aloud that they might be rushed to draw new district boundaries in time for the state's March 1 filing deadline.
But the judges stopped short of voiding the state process, which culminated last week in a state courtroom after the state legislature failed to reach a consensus on how to draw district boundaries.
Hinds County Chancellor Patricia Wise adopted a controversial plan submitted by Democratic activists that, among other things, throws Memphis suburbs and Northeast Mississippi into the same congressional district as many Jackson suburbs.
Mississippi, which is losing one of its five seats in Congress, has submitted that plan to the U.S. Department of Justice, which has at least 60 days to review it for evidence that it might dilute minority voting strength.
"I think you can tell we are somewhat concerned about whether there will be in place a ... plan submitted by state authorities by March 1," U.S. Fifth Circuit Judge E. Grady Jolly told attorneys for Republican and Democratic parties and activists on Friday.
Jolly ordered both sides to submit further arguments in the case, but judges said they would not rule before Jan. 7.
But during the hearing, which was on a motion by the Republican Executive Committee to throw out the state court's actions, they also discussed the possibility of starting their own proceedings soon, as a precaution in case the Justice Department turns down the plan adopted by the state court.
"I'd like to have the opportunity to take a more leisurely look at the issues. I don't want to go to trial the third week in February and (rule) by the first of March," said U.S. Dist. Judge David Bramlette.
And U.S. Dist. Judge Henry T. Wingate asked Democrats what would be wrong with "just having a hearing and holding on to the plan" in case the state's plan is denied by the Justice Department.
Rob McDuff, an attorney for Democrats, said the federal panel should defer as much as possible to the state process. And he suggested the remedy that would do the "least violence" to the state's authority to draw new districts was for the federal judges to simply move the March 1 candidates' filing deadline if there is still no plan in place by then.
"I don't think we're inclined to do that," replied Jolly, who with his colleagues had previously voiced concerns about voter confusion that might result from a delay.
Earlier Friday, in state court, Wise denied motions that she reverse her decision, setting the procedural groundwork for Republicans to appeal to the state's Supreme Court.
Republicans argued in federal court that the simple process of appeals could force the Justice Department to delay reviewing the state's new plan.
Contact Jackson, Miss., Bureau reporter Reed Branson at (601) 352-8631.
Northeast Mississippi and DeSoto County are combined with Jackson suburbs in the center of the state in a single congressional district under new political boundaries approved Friday by a Hinds County judge.
Because of nationwide population shifts, Mississippi is losing one of its five seats in Congress.
In the wake of the Legislature's failure to draw new districts, Hinds County Chancellor Pat Wise ordered the state to implement a plan proposed by Democratic activists, saying it provided the most politically equitable merger of two central Mississippi districts.
But to create that political balance in a central district that stretches from Natchez to Columbus, Wise had to throw more than 100,000 Republican-leaning citizens in Jackson's suburbs of Rankin and Madison counties into a district that's otherwise made up of Northeast Mississippi and DeSoto County.
It is currently represented by U.S. Rep. Roger Wicker, a Republican.
"The court rejects the argument that placing high-growth areas in the same district would jeopardize federal funding to those cities," Wise wrote in a 16-page ruling filed late Friday. She was responding to Republican arguments that booming Memphis and Jackson suburbs would be forced to compete for the attention of their congressman.
"Conversely, the court's opinion is that it would do just the opposite since the person representing (the district) will have the opportunity to concentrate on the common issues of larger cities, much like former Congressman Sonny V. Montgomery, who championed . . . veteran and military affairs."
Her ruling came after an expedited five-day trial here, and is sure to be appealed. In fact, it may even inspire deadlocked legislators to enact an alternative.
But officials with the Mississippi Attorney General's Office were expected next week to begin preparations to send it to the U.S. Department of Justice, which must review any new plan under the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
"We're obviously disappointed," said Grant Fox, a Tupelo-based attorney representing a group of Republicans who intervened in the case to block the Democratic plan. "We will seek an appeal to the Mississippi Supreme Court. We think the U.S. Justice Department will have major problems under the Voting Rights Act with how the process developed."
Mississippi Republican Chairman Jim Herring said, "Mississippians should be outraged . . . We have big problems in our state if an elected judge from a single county can impose a partisan Democratic redistricting plan on the entire state."
But Rob McDuff, a lawyer for the Democratic activists who filed the suit, said he believed Wise's decision would be upheld, in part because it provided both parties a shot at winning the new central district that stretches from Natchez to Columbus.
"Judge Wise had a difficult decision between a plan that is visually attractive but heavily biased toward Republicans and a plan that is less attractive but creates a competitive district," said McDuff. "Given that we lost a seat, we believe she made the right choice in choosing the plan that is most fair."
This dispute landed in Wise's court after a political deadlock emerged in the state Legislature, principally over the political makeup of a central district expected to pit the state's two most junior congressmen, U.S. Reps. Chip Pick ering, a Republican, and Ronnie Shows, a Democrat.
Republican activists had proposed a plan that expanded the majority-black second congressional district in the Delta from Tunica to Wilkerson counties on the western side of the state. It then divided the eastern part of the state into north, central and southern regions - a proposal even Democrats acknowledged was more esthetically pleasing.
But the Republican proposal also devastated the Democratic congressman's political base in the new central Mississippi district. And, clearly, Republicans were concerned about politics. During the trial, at least one witness acknowledged that congressman Pickering had asked him to testify.
Even before Wise released her plan, there were rumblings among some legislative leaders about returning for a special session in early January if Wise's plan displeased enough members in each chamber to compromise.
"If we don't do it by Jan. 8 (when the regular session convenes), it won't be done in the regular session," predicted House Speaker Tim Ford (D-Baldwyn) several hours before the judge ruled. "If you have the motivation to agree, it will come pretty quickly."
Specifically, factions in northeast Mississippi who opposed any linkage to suburban Jackson, as well as those in the Jackson suburbs, may now be inspired to embrace an earlier proposal that had only 36,000 Jackson suburbanites lumped into the northeast district.
Time is crucial. A federal three-judge panel warned they would take over the redistricting process here if the state had not produced a plan by Jan. 7.
The deadline to qualify for office is March 1, and under the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the U.S. Department of Justice gets at least 60 days to review any proposed changes in election laws to guard against discrimination.
Contact Jackson Bureau reporter Reed Branson at (601) 352-8631.
Hinds County Chancellor Patricia Wise has approved a congressional redistricting plan proposed by Democrats.
The map combines roughly equal territories of the southwestern district now represented by Democrat Ronnie Shows and the east central district now represented by Chip Pickering.
The state's two junior congressmen are tossed together for the 2002 race. Mississippi is losing one of its five U.S. House seats because of slow population growth in the 1990s.
Lawmakers last month couldn't agree on a new map. The sticking point was over how to combine areas now represented by Pickering and Shows.
Redistricting landed in chancery court after Democratic plaintiffs filed a lawsuit. A group of Republicans intervened as defendants.
In a five-day trial, Wise heard from experts on what standards should be used in redistricting and from public officials on how they want their areas of the state to be treated.
Even as they await the court-ordered congressional redistricting plan, Mississippi legislative leaders said the state House and Senate might jump back into the map drawing process.
"I heard one of the members say it's going to have to get worse before it got better," House Speaker Tim Ford, D-Baldwyn, said Friday before Wise's decision. "Depending on what the result of the court is--it might move some minds."
Ford and Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck said in separate interviews Friday that if legislators don't like what Wise rules, lead lawmakers on the redistricting issue might reopen stalled negotiations.
Gov. Ronnie Musgrove has said he'll call lawmakers back in for a special session only if leaders can guarantee they've worked out a plan that will pass both chambers.
The regular 2002 session starts Jan. 8. Ford said if legislators dive back into congressional redistricting, it will happen before then.
"As we've said all along, this issue is one that certainly we would've liked for the Legislature to have addressed," Tuck said.
A plan approved by the House during the November special session combined almost equal portions of Pickering's and Shows' districts to create a new central district. It had a northern district that dipped into the Jackson suburbs, prompting some to call it the "tornado" plan.
A Senate-approved plan had a central district comprised mostly of Pickering's territory. Tuck said it preserved the regional integrity of the state.
Redistricting landed in chancery court after Democratic plaintiffs filed a lawsuit. A group of Republicans intervened as defendants.
Lawyers for the Democratic plaintiffs and Republican defendants submitted plans for Wise to consider. Though they don't mirror the House and Senate plans, the Democrats' plan bears some resemblance to the House proposal and the Republicans' plan shares some characteristics of the Senate map.
A separate lawsuit, filed by Republicans, is pending in federal court. Three federal judges have said they'll take over redistricting if they don't see by Jan. 7 that state authorities are on track to have a new plan in place by March 1, the qualifying deadline for 2002 congressional candidates.
Any plan approved by lawmakers or a state court would need approval of the U.S. Justice Department to assure fairness to minorities. Getting that approval could take up to two months, officials say.
Attorney General Mike Moore, who will submit a plan to Justice, said he'll give precedent to a legislative-crafted plan over one drawn by a court.
And now a lone judge with a limited staff must do in days what 174 lawmakers failed to accomplish after nearly a year: redraw Mississippi's congressional district boundaries for the coming decade.
Hinds County Chancellor Patricia D. Wise, an orderly and deliberate judge who more typically hears child support or divorce cases, said Wednesday she hopes to produce a plan by Friday or immediately after Christmas.
And she has acknowledged in limited comments from the bench that it is a difficult task, with a decision sure to displease many. A political scientist testifying this week described her task as "unenviable."
"I'm glad you recognize that," replied Wise in rare comment on her own dilemma.
Wise, 50, found herself with the case after Democratic activists filed suit, asking her to draw a plan in the wake of the Legislature's failure to do so. Mississippi is losing one of its five congressional seats, and political battles have raged first in the statehouse and now in the courtroom over the shape and political make up of the remaining districts.
The trial began Friday, continued on Saturday and concluded Wednesday with closing arguments.
Rob McDuff, a lawyer for Democratic activists, argued Wednesday that the plan they are advocating provides a fair chance for either U.S. Reps. Chip Pickering, a Republican, or Ronnie Shows, a Democrat, to be elected in 2002 when they will be running in the same district. McDuff said a plan advocated by Republicans, with seemingly more compact districts, would devastate Shows's political base.
Keith Ball, who represented Republican mayors and activists in proposing an alternative, said their plan is based on preserving geographical regions, not calculating political advantage. And, he argued, since it is the court, not the Legislature, drawing the plan, such "neutral factors" are more appropriate considerations.
Wise told lawyers Wednesday she was starting from scratch and would ''go 24-7" to review the evidence and testimony. She could adopt one of several plans either side has presented, or even draw her own, though McDuff warned that drawing her own plan might invite another layer of appeals.
Republicans charged early on there was a legislative "conspiracy" by Democrats to deadlock in the statehouse and land the case in Hinds County Chancery Court, whose judges are elected by Democratic majorities. One Republican senator said he believed Wise had made up her mind. A lawyer in this case for Republican activists referred to one of her rulings as "ridiculous."
On the first day of trial, as lawyers for Republican activists stridently asked for a bench conference to be placed on the record, Wise told them "this is not life or death. Calm down." At another point, she said "I'm not going to allow you to take control of this trial."
Knowing her decision will be appealed in state and probably federal courts, Wise at times sounded more like the public school educator she once was, insisting on orderly proceedings and a clear record. She has precise notions about who should sit where, and even would stop proceedings occasionally so court officials could remove stray paper from a table or a witness stand.
Lawyers who wanted to object were required to first stand. "I can't hear you because you're not standing," she admonished once. Lawyers were then required to state a legal basis for an objection.
She sustained and overruled numerous objections made by both sides and at times on her own admonished lawyers not to ask leading questions.
"She's very bright, hard-working and diligent. More than anything else, she's fair," said former Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Reuben Anderson, who hired Wise as a law clerk when he was a Circuit Court judge. "Her grades were exceptional . . . She's always aspired to be a judge, even before she was a lawyer."
Thanks in part to a voting rights lawsuit that ultimately required new judicial districts in Mississippi to give minorities more opportunities on the bench, Wise was elected Chancery Court judge in a 1989. She has been re-elected three times.
"Judge Wise has been very fair in the proceedings and has considered all the plans and all the evidence," said McDuff, a veteran of numerous federal redistricting lawsuits
By Wednesday, Wise and attorneys for both sides had grown accustomed to one another, even laughing and joking at moments. One of the pair she had told to "calm down" was even offering praise.
"I was impressed with Judge Wise's professionalism and the way she ran her courtroom," said Grant Fox, an attorney for Republican activists. "She has a reputation among chancery judges in Mississippi of being an excellent judge."
Contact Jackson Bureau reporter Reed Branson at (601) 352-8631.
A Hinds County Chancery Court judge will hear closing arguments this morning in a congressional redistricting trial where political fairness will be weighed against regional interests.
Lawyers representing the Democratic plaintiffs used witness testimony Tuesday to stress the importance of maintaining fairness and competitiveness in a new district formed by combining parts of the areas currently represented by 3rd District U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering, a Republican, and 4th District U.S. Rep. Ronnie Shows, a Democrat.
Defense lawyers called John Alford, a political science professor at Rice University in Texas, to testify about the court's duty to adopt a map that protects minority voting strength in the area currently represented by 2nd District U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson and takes into consideration compactness, regionalism and contiguous districts.
Alford said political fairness should rank low on a court's list of factors in considering a plan, because politics belongs in the Legislature.
He said Judge Patricia Wise shouldn't consider the plans adopted separately by the House and Senate because there was no agreement. "The court needs to do something distinctive. It doesn't need to be a fall-back legislative body. That's an unenviable position."
Wise responded, "I'm glad you recognize that."
Mississippi is losing one of its five congressional seats because it grew more slowly than many other states in the 1990s. In a special session last month, lawmakers failed to agree on how to reshape the state's districts.
Alford said Mississippi is in an unusual predicament because typically states adopt a plan, and the court only steps in if there's a legal flaw.
Alford, who recently testified in federal court on Texas' redistricting process, said he's noticed a trend among states to abdicate their authority to the courts, hoping they can decide the issue and maybe draw a better plan.
"I think it's an unfortunate trend," he said.
House Ways and Means Chairman Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi, said he understands congressional redistricting is a legislative responsibility. He said he still hopes the impasse can be resolved.
The Mississippi Supreme Court has stated the Legislature can still draw a map that would usurp any plan Wise may adopt.
Alford said politics is a part of redistricting but it shouldn't drive a plan. He said one problem facing the court is a shortage of plans from which to choose. In Texas, the state's attorney general, lieutenant governor and House speaker offered plans for the court's consideration.
Under cross examination, Alford said he knew of no state or federal law requiring compact districts, but compactness should be a consideration.
Former Louisiana U.S. Rep. Bob Livingston, a Republican, testified it's difficult for a congressman to represent a large, diverse district because the division of responsibility would be diffused. The former chairman of the House Appropriations Committee said military bases, major universities and high growth areas are better represented in separate districts.
Livingston, who said he was initially asked by Pickering to testify in the case, said problems arise when there are competing interests at stake within one district.
"The more competition you have, the more divided the congressman's attentions are," he said.
In other testimony, former 4th District U.S. Rep. Wayne Dowdy said he preferred the plaintiff's plan because the modified version of a map drawn by former state Sen. Henry Kirksey splinters the southwestern end of the state, which Shows now represents.
"It's ugly in so far as the 4th District is concerned," Dowdy said about the modified Kirksey plan. "The (plaintiffs') plan places us in a position where our interests won't be ignored."
Leslie B. McLemore, a Jackson State University political science professor and Jackson city councilman, returned to the witness stand Tuesday to again express his support of the plaintiffs' plan.
He said it's important, when a state loses a congressional seat, to include as many people of the old districts into the new ones.
McLemore said, based on general population, the Kirksey plan keeps 73 percent of Pickering's district and 23 percent of Shows' district in a new combined area whereas the plaintiffs' plan incorporated 47 percent of Pickering's current district and 45 percent of Shows' current district in a new combined area.
"Just based on that, it would seem to be fair and competitive," McLemore said.
He said the plaintiffs' plan strikes a balance between the House and Senate plans and, despite what Alford recommended, McLemore said, the Legislature's efforts shouldn't be ignored in Wise's final deliberations.
Wise is expected to rule on the redistricting case by Friday.
A longtime Mississippi voting rights activist Monday warned that a Democrat-backed congressional district proposal linking Memphis and Jackson suburbs would cause significant voter confusion and havoc due to its odd shape.
Henry Kirksey, a former state senator and a Democrat himself, testified instead that a plan he drew and that is now largely embraced by Republican activists is a more reasonable way to divide the state.
But an expert called to support that same Republican-backed redistricting plan acknowledged under questioning Monday that it could dilute black voting strength in a newly created congressional district in the east-central part of the state.
Testimony could conclude as early as today in a trial in Hinds County Chancery Court over how a judge should draw the state's four congressional districts in the wake of the Legislature's failure to do so. Mississippi is losing one of its five congressional districts, and factions are battling over the makeup of a sweeping central-Mississippi district likely to pit an incumbent Democrat against and an incumbent Republican.
On Monday, Republicans also asked a federal court to halt the state court proceedings, charging that the process of going to state court to resolve a legislative deadlock had not been approved by the U.S. Department of Justice's Voting Rights Section. It was unclear when the federal courts would rule on that motion.
In state court, Republican activists rallied around a plan drawn by Kirksey, a Democratic stalwart who worked on various redistricting battles over the decades. Kirksey's proposal keeps most of the congressional districts in nearly their current state, except the fourth district, represented by U.S. Rep. Ronnie Shows, a Democrat. It would be divided among several, making it tougher for Shows or another Democrat to be elected.
"I really didn't have party in mind. I'm a Democrat, but I didn't draw a Republican plan or Democratic plan," said Kirksey. Moreover, he said, a plan drawn by Democratic activists that links Republican-leaning suburbs in Jackson with DeSoto County and north Mississippi districts - via a narrow north-south "corridor" - would cause confusion.
"I hate those corridors. It seems to just create problems," he said. "When you look at the tail of the cow (shaped-district) coming down into Rankin County, that's a disaster. I know why it was drawn."
Michael Bridge, an Oxford-based planning consultant, testified that the Republican-backed plan would protect black voting strength by putting more black people in the Second Congressional District, which is already overwhelmingly black.
He said it was important because the state's black population had declined dramatically in the last 20 years. But that was an assertion he ultimately returned to the stand to recant. The black population, in fact, has remained fairly constant, increasing slightly in the period.
"Would you agree that a district with (less) black voting age population, black voters are less able to influence the outcome of an election?" Rob McDuff, a lawyer for Democratic activists, asked. McDuff compared Democratic proposals that have a 38 percent black voting age population in a new east-central district with several Republican plans with between 34 and 29 percent.
"The answer to that is yes," said Bridge, adding, though, that it might not make a big difference.
Bridge also testified that the Republican plan was good because it didn't pit like communities - such as DeSoto County and Rankin County - against one another for the attention of a single congressman.
"Why are you so concerned with the relatively wealthy counties each having their own congressman . . . but you don't mind all the poor people thrown together and having only one congressman advocate for their needs?" asked McDuff.
Bridge said, "it's not a matter of wealthy and poor. It's a matter of need for services."
Mississippi's congressional voting map should include as much of the current 3rd and 4th districts as possible in a new combined district, a Jackson State University political scientist testified Saturday during the second day of a redistricting trial in Hinds County Chancery Court.
Leslie McLemore, also a Jackson city councilman, said maintaining equal portions of the areas represented by 3rd District U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering, a Republican, and 4th District U.S. Rep. Ronnie Shows, a Democrat, would ensure both a fair shot at the seat.
He said two maps offered by Democrats ó which would have given President Bush a 58 percent to 41 percent victory over Al Gore in the 2000 presidential election in a combined district ó would make for a "very competitive (new) district, in a very real sense maybe weighted a little toward the Republicans."
But a lawyer representing Republicans asked Hinds County Chancery Court Judge Patricia Wise to dismiss the case because, he said, the maps were drawn based on political performance instead of nonpolitical factors, such as trying to maintain a compact district and linking communities with similar interests.
Wise denied the motion but is considering other motions to dismiss the testimony of two redistricting experts who testified on behalf of the Democratic plaintiffs.
The lawsuit, asking the court to draw new congressional voting lines, was filed on behalf of Democratic activists after the state Legislature failed to reach an agreement on how to shrink the state's five current voting districts into four. Mississippi is losing a seat in Congress because its population didn't keep pace with that of some other states during the 1990s.
Republicans intervened as defendants in the case, which has centered on how the districts represented by Pickering and Shows will be combined.
A plan must be in place in time to give the U.S. Justice Department 60 days to approve it before the March 1 qualifying deadline for congressional candidates.
Proposed plans from the Democratic plaintiffs also have the 1st District, currently represented by Republican Roger Wicker, beginning at the state's northern border and reaching down narrowly into central Mississippi. The district would include high-growth areas in DeSoto, Lee, Madison and Rankin counties.
McLemore said the counties share some common interests in that they are suburban areas with high-income and well-educated residents. One congressman should have no problem representing the interests of constituents in the district, he said.
"I think it's really going to give him more clout. I think Mr. Wicker would have more influence," McLemore said.
Despite McLemore's testimony that a district connecting north Mississippi with central Mississippi makes sense, Ridgeland Mayor Gene McGee and Tupelo Mayor Larry Otis testified on behalf of the Republican intervenors in the case, saying regional interests should be considered.
McGee and Otis said it would be difficult for the cities to compete for the attention and the federal dollars needed from a congressman who represented both high-growth cities in one district.
"It's my concern the city of Ridgeland will be left out in some of the funds that we need," McGee said. He added that it would be difficult for a candidate from Madison or Rankin counties to run in a district that stretches to the northern end of the state, because north Mississippians would be unfamiliar with the person.
Otis said Wicker's ability to represent a large district under the plaintiffs' plan isn't the issue. "The issue to me is this is a region that needs to remain intact," he said.
Tupelo lawyer Grant Fox, who represents the Republican voters intervening in the case, also asked McLemore whether it would be better to have only one military base in a district. The plan forwarded by the Democrats includes two military bases in the combined district.
McLemore said having two bases in a single district shouldn't be a challenge considering former 3rd District Rep. Sonny Montgomery had Pickering's district, which has two military bases, before he retired. Montgomery worked effectively on behalf of military installations and veterans, he said.
The redistricting trial is scheduled to resume at 8:30 a.m. Monday.
In the opening of a trial that could alter the state's political landscape, Democratic activists asked a state judge here to put more than 100,000, Republican-leaning suburban Jackson voters into an otherwise North Mississippi-based congressional district.
Hinds County Chancellor Patricia Wise today will again hear from activists in both political parties over how she should redraw the state's congressional district boundaries. She hopes to rule by Christmas.
Mississippi is losing one of its five congressmen. The Legislature failed earlier this year to reach a consensus over new districts. And the ensuing legal battles - now pending in both state and federal courts - revolve largely around the ultimate political leanings of a central Mississippi district that is likely to pit U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering, a Republican, against Ronnie Shows, a Democrat.
"A plan should not single out any district or candidate for defeat,'' said Rob McDuff, a lawyer representing Democratic activists who filed the suit asking the judge to take over the process in the wake of the Legislature's failure. "Our plan is the most balanced. It does not have the intent or effect of destroying any single (current) congressional district.''
Republican activists, though, countered that Democrats were specifically trying to get thousands of Republican-leaning voters out of that new, central Mississippi district by use of a "tornado" or funnel-shaped corridor linking the northern district with Jackson's suburbs.
The result, Republicans complained, was a more Democratic district designed for Shows.
"The goal of redistricting should be to draw congressional lines to maximize the effectiveness of each member of Congress,'' said attorney Grant Fox, who is representing Republican activists who believe splitting voters in the same geographical region dilutes their power in Washington.
He said the Democratic case reminded him of the Wizard of Oz, and "we're going to peek behind the curtain'' to find more political motivations.
Neither state party executive committee is formally a party to the case, but activists on both sides and supporters of Shows and Pickering are closely monitoring it.
Democratic activists opened their case on Friday by presenting a plan drawn by Cristina Correia, an Atlanta-based voting rights attorney who is now working as a redistricting consultant for various communities in the South.
Correia said she was asked to draw a plan that: kept populations among four districts nearly equal, that had a strong Democratic majority in the Delta's Second Congressional District and that in a new, central Mississippi district had a Democratic base of more than 40 percent.
To do that, she said, she used precinct returns from the 2000 presidential election.
"I really was blind as to the racial demographics,'' Correia testified. The result is a plan that seems to be similar to one proposed by the Legislative Black Caucus, keeping the Delta's district represented by U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) predominantly black and giving any Democratic candidate a strong base in central Mississippi.
In the new central district, Correia said, Bush carried nearly 59 percent of the votes and Gore carried 41 percent, something McDuff suggested would actually give an edge to a Republican candidate and render the district up for grabs.
More importantly, Correia testified, the new central district has about 41 percent of the voters from both Shows's and Pickering's current districts.
But Keith Ball, a lawyer for Republicans, noted that electoral performance in presidential races varies widely from performance in congressional races, with Mississippi Democrats often easily winning in districts that choose Republican presidents.
Moreover, he argued, the Democratic plan linked DeSoto, Tishomingo and Rankin counties by ignoring geographic communities of interest.
"The First District congressman could get to Churchill Downs (in Louisville, Ky.) as fast as he could get from the northernmost point to the southernmost point in his congressional district,'' said Ball. "Southaven is closer to Cario, Ill. than it is to (Rankin County's) Puckett, Miss.''
Contact Jackson, Miss., Bureau reporter Reed Branson at (601) 352-8631.
Mississippi's congressional redistricting battle is now being fought in a Hinds County courtroom, where competing sides are trying to sell a judge on their versions of where to draw new voting lines.
With state lawmakers deadlocked on how to reduce the state's five congressional districts into four, based on the 2000 census, Hinds County Chancery Judge Patricia Wise started a trial Friday to help her determine how to remake Mississippi's political map.
While the plaintiffs are seven residents who appealed to the court to take on the challenge and the defendants are the state's election commissioners, the battle is really between Democrats, who filed the suit, and Republicans, who'd rather have a more GOP-friendly federal court draw the map.
At stake: How parts of two congressional districts ó Republican Chip Pickering's 3rd and Democrat Ronnie Shows' 4th ó will be reshaped. Will the combined district favor Pickering or Shows in what's expected to be an election battle in 2002?
Mississippi is losing one of its five congressional seats because it grew more slowly than many other states in the 1990s.
A plan must be decided in time to give the U.S. Justice Department 60 days to approve it before the March 1 qualifying deadline for congressional candidates.
The plaintiffs' attorney, Robert McDuff, submitted four redistricting plans for Wise's consideration ó the two plans adopted by the House and Senate and two variations of a compromise.
Much of Friday was spent in testimony from Cristina Correia, a Georgia lawyer and demographer who drew congressional maps for plaintiffs, based on a list of requests from McDuff.
Democratic political performance in the 2000 presidential election was a factor she used, Correia said.
One of her maps ended up similar to the so-called tornado plan in which the current 1st Congressional District begins at the state's northern border and reaches down narrowly into central Mississippi. Lawmakers had rejected the tornado plan.
Louisville lawyer Keith Ball, one of the defense attorneys for a group of Republican voters, said political performance is just another way of using race to draw new districts. He said it would help Shows win an election.
"In general, do you think there's a direct correlation between black voting-age population and Democratic voting-age performance?" Ball asked Correia.
"I think that's generally the case, yes," she said after multiple questions on her map methodology.
Another defense attorney, Grant Fox of Tupelo, said the course of the trial will prove that getting Shows elected is lurking behind the plaintiffs' case.
"What we're going to do is peek behind that curtain and tear it down," he said.
Wise had moved her trial date from Jan. 14 after a federal three-judge panel said it would take over if it's not clear by Jan. 7 that state authorities can agree on a new map before the March 1 filing deadline. Wise has said she hopes to file a redistricting plan on Dec. 21 or 24.
Correia, one of six witnesses Friday, said neither communities of interest, economic development, location of military bases nor race were factors in her maps. She said McDuff requested she create a map that included splitting Rankin and Madison counties, which the House plan does, and keeping Lowndes County whole in the new combined district, like the Senate plan.
Correia also said McDuff asked her to draw a new district by combining the areas represented by Shows and Pickering with a Democratic performance percentage in the low 40s, and an area currently represented by 2nd District U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson with a Democratic performance percentage in the high 50s.
The combined 3rd and 4th districts wind from the northeast down to the southwest in the plaintiff's maps. The state's four major universities also were placed in separate districts.
Ball presented Correia with a version of map drawn by former Sen. Henry Kirksey. The plan doesn't dip the 1st District down into metropolitan Jackson, and splits three counties instead of eight as in one of the plaintiffs' maps.
The 2nd District stretches from Tunica County down to Wilkinson County in the revised Kirksey plan, and the southwest area currently represented by Shows is split between the current 2nd and 5th districts.
"Wouldn't you agree this respects traditional district lines?" Ball asked Correia about the Kirksey map.
"No," she responded. "What you identified as the southwest district is totally gone."
In other testimony Friday, Jackson Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr. testified for plaintiffs that he prefers to be represented by more than one congressman. Jackson is currently served by three congressmen ó Shows, Pickering and Thompson.
"I found that having more than one congressman gives the city of Jackson several avenues of support," he said.
Bea Branch, Rims Barber and L.C. Dorsey, among the seven plaintiffs and all of Jackson, also testified Friday afternoon, saying the principle of one-person, one-vote is of great importance to them. They also said they would be against a statewide at-large election, as Republicans have suggested in a federal court case, if no redistricting plan is in place to keep the March qualifying deadline.
"If you go at-large, you're throwing it up for grabs," Barber said. "I think it would create havoc in the electoral process. No one would know who's representing them."
Branch and Dorsey said an at-large election would make it difficult for a black candidate to be elected.
The trial continues today at 8:30 a.m. in Wise's courtroom.
A Mississippi Supreme Court ruling late Thursday gave Hinds County Chancery Judge Patricia Wise the authority to proceed with a trial today to draw the state's congressional redistricting map.
The trial is scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m.
Justices denied petitions from a group of Republican voters and the attorney general who had appealed to the Supreme Court over whether Wise's court is the proper venue.
"After due consideration, the court finds that the Hinds County Chancery Court has jurisdiction of this matter," the order stated.
Wise will decide on the new district lines after hearing arguments in a Chancery Court lawsuit filed by seven Mississippians. The suit asked the court to decide on congressional redistricting if the Mississippi Legislature could not agree.
In a special session last month, lawmakers failed to agree on how to reshape Mississippi's five congressional districts into four. The sticking point was how to combine areas 3rd District Rep. Chip Pickering, a Republican, and 4th District Rep. Ronnie Shows, a Democrat, represent.
Mississippi is losing one of its five congressional seats because it grew more slowly than many other states in the 1990s.
A plan must be decided in time to give the U.S. Justice Department 60 days to approve it before the March 1 qualifying deadline for congressional candidates.
"I think we're ready to go forward," said Rims Barber, one of the seven plaintiffs in the lawsuit, after the Supreme Court had ruled. "We just want to get a plan in place to get an election."
Wise had moved her trial date from Jan. 14 after a federal three-judge panel said it would take over if it's not clear by Jan. 7 that state authorities can agree on a new map before the March 1 filing deadline. Wise has said she hopes to file a redistricting plan by Dec. 24.
The attorney general's office stated in a supplemental petition filed Thursday with the Supreme Court that if a state court must decide redistricting, it should be the circuit court.
The attorney general's original petition had asked the Supreme Court for guidance on whether a chancery judge has authority to adopt a congressional map and whether statewide elected officials are the proper defendants in the case.
Attorney General Mike Moore said the state Board of Elections Commissioners, which includes himself, Gov. Ronnie Musgrove and Secretary of State Eric Clark, is not responsible for drawing up a plan and do not have a position on the issue. Moore said the attorney general's office doesn't plan to put on witnesses before Wise or cross examine witnesses.
Moore said he plans to propose a constitutional amendment when the Legislature convenes in January to establish a five-member panel to draw up a congressional map when lawmakers can't reach a consensus. It would be the same five-member panel that ends disputes on legislative redistricting stalemates.
The panel includes the chief justice of the Supreme Court, the attorney general, the secretary of state, the speaker of the House and the Senate Pro Tem. If adopted by the Legislature, the amendment would go before voters in November 2002.
"We need a fail safe so we don't have to do this again," he said. But he added, "I am happy that the Supreme Court has cleared up the jurisdiction issue."
Tupelo lawyer Grant Fox, who represents the Republican voters intervening in the case, said he was disappointed with the decision. "We made some due process arguments about how quickly we were pushed to trial. We haven't been afforded the opportunity to prepare for trial," he said.
However, Fox said he has a list of about 30 witnesses, and he's presenting a version of a redistricting map drawn by former Sen. Henry Kirksey.
Kirksey's plan is perceived to give Pickering an advantage over Shows in a combined district.
Robert McDuff, attorney for the plaintiffs in the case, said several plans have been filed for Wise's consideration, including the maps adopted by the House and Senate. McDuff said the map he will offer is a compromise between the House and Senate plans.
The map splits Madison and Rankin counties, like the House plan does, and it treats Lauderdale County like the Senate's plan, leaving it whole in the combined district. The black voting age population is about 37 percent.
The House map provides a black voting age population of 38.2 percent in the combined district. The black voting strength for the combined district in the Senate plan is 34.3 percent.
Challenges of redistricting involve achieving acceptable percentages of black voting power and party voting patterns as well as geographic integrity.
McDuff said he's pleased the state's high court agreed that Wise could decide on a map.
"The Mississippi Supreme Court has said the same thing that the U.S. Supreme Court has said, which is that state courts should resolve these matters when the Legislature defaults rather than federal courts," he said.
Justice Jim Smith dissented in Thursday's ruling. Justice Kay Cobb didn't participate.
Fox, in papers filed with the state Supreme Court, compared the Hinds County Chancery case to plaintiffs suing strangers because the Board of Elections Commissioners isn't the proper defendant.
Wise wrote in her response: "To be clear, the court found this baby orphan on its doorsteps and will not abdicate its responsibilities nor abandon the baby orphan."
The attorney general's office increased the pressure on the state's high court Tuesday to make the call on who decides the fate of congressional redistricting.
State lawmakers threw up their hands at redrawing the state's congressional district lines. Democrats lobbied the issue to Hinds County Chancery Court, Republicans to federal court. Now the Mississippi Supreme Court is being asked to clear up which court has authority.
The attorney general's office filed a petition with the Supreme Court asking for guidance on whether a chancery judge has authority to adopt a congressional map and whether statewide elected officials are the proper defendants in the case.
That petition follows one filed with the Supreme Court last week by the Mississippi Republican Party and other GOP voters. The Republicans asked the Supreme Court to intervene because they contend Hinds County Chancery Judge Patricia Wise doesn't have jurisdiction to rule on redistricting.
"We got a lot of unanswered questions that need to be answered here," said Hunt Cole, special assistant attorney general. "There's genuine concern about the direction this matter has taken."
The Supreme Court sent a letter to Wise on Tuesday asking her to respond to the petitions by 9 a.m. Thursday. If the court is to halt proceedings in the matter, attorneys in the case say it would need to happen before Friday.
Wise has scheduled a trial on congressional redistricting to begin Friday. She moved her trial date from Jan. 14 after a federal three-judge panel said it would take over if it's not clear by Jan. 7 that state authorities can agree on a map before the March 1 candidates' filing deadline.
Mississippi is losing one of its five congressional seats because it grew more slowly than many other states in the 1990s. In a special session last month, state lawmakers could not agree on a new plan. The sticking point was how to combine areas 3rd District Rep. Chip Pickering, a Republican, and 4th Disctrict Rep. Ronnie Shows, a Democrat, represent.
Democrats filed the chancery court suit, while Republicans filed a suit in federal court.
The chancery court suit was filed against the state elections commission ó Moore, Gov. Ronnie Musgrove and Secretary of State Eric Clark. Moore said the commissioners shouldn't be sued because they can't offer redistricting plans to the judge.
He had asked Wise to include the state Democratic and Republican executive committee members since they could offer plans in the case and would have an interest in the results. Wise initially agreed to add them as defendants but later reversed her decision.
Besides the concern over proper defendants, Hunt said the overriding question is whether the chancery court has jurisdiction.
Jackson lawyer Robert McDuff, who represents the plaintiffs in the chancery court suit, said in his response to the Republicans' petition that the U.S. Supreme Court already has stated in other rulings that the state courts "have a significant role in redistricting." He said interference from the state Supreme Court could put redistricting in the hands of the three-judge federal panel.
"Any interruption of the chancery court schedule could give the federal court what it believes are sufficient grounds to undertake the redistricting task itself and strip state authorities of the ability to design Mississippi's congressional districts for the coming elections," McDuff's filing stated.
Tupelo lawyer Grant Fox said his clients think legislators should settle congressional redistricting, but if a court must handle it, then the federal court is the proper venue.
"We're very pleased the attorney general's filing agreed with what we filed. We obviously hope (the Supreme Court) issues a stay and hears us on the writ of prohibition," he said.
Three federal judges last week said they'll take over the state's redistricting if it's not clear by Jan. 7 that legislators can approve a new map before the March 1 filing deadline.
The federal order came two days after Hinds County Chancery Judge Patricia Wise scheduled a Jan. 14 hearing to craft a redistricting map. She subsequently moved the hearing up to Dec. 14. Wise expects to decide on a House map by Dec. 21 or Dec. 24.
Legislators or Wise could still act on redistricting before the federal court's deadline.
Lawmakers in Mississippi's Democratic-controlled Legislature last month couldn't agree on a new map that eliminates one of the delegation's five House districts. They debated competing plans to combine areas now represented by Reps. Chip Pickering (R) and Ronnie Shows (D).
Gov. Ronnie Musgrove (D) has said he would call legislators back into session, but only if they signaled they could agree on a plan.
Bluegrass Impasse. Lawmakers in Kentucky's divided Legislature last week were deadlocked over redistricting, killing the chance for a special redistricting session and pushing the earliest remap into the regular legislative session that opens Jan. 8.
Although legislators have embraced a delegation-drawn map that protects all six sitting House Members, Republicans are expected to gain strength in the remap. Kentucky's biggest population gains during the 1990s were in the state's northern and central reaches, mostly GOP strongholds, while the largest losses came in Democratic areas, such as eastern Kentucky and Jefferson County.
The battleground will be the Louisville-based 3rd district, a traditional Democratic stronghold where Rep. Anne Northup(R) has twice won re-election, despite strong Democratic challengers. State Republicans want GOP-leaning Oldham County added to the 3rd, but Democrats want to keep the district inside Jefferson County.
If a compromise isn't reached, the issue could be resolved in federal court.
The redistricting battle promises to be spirited. State Senate President David Williams (R) warned last week that Republicans will not yield to Democratic wishes as frequently as they had in the special session.
Stealing Home Base. Rep. Rick Larsen's (D-Wash.)base of Everett has become a major sticking point as the state's citizen redistricting commission tries to come to agreement on a new House map before its deadline next Saturday.
As expected, Republicans want to remove the Democratic-leaning city just north of Seattle from the 2nd, a swing district where Larsen won by 4 points last year. Removing Everett would spell trouble for the lawmaker, who could face a strong challenge next year.
Three Republicans - state Rep. Kelly Barlean, Norma Smith, an aide to ex-Rep. Jack Metcalf, and former Reagan administration official Herb Meyer - are running.
Democrats so far refuse to budge. However, insiders said it's hard to see how the 2nd, which grew in population during the 1990s, can be drawn without shedding Everett on its southern border. The district is bordered to the west by the Pacific Ocean, to the north by Canada and to the west by the Cascade Mountains.
The commission has until Dec. 15 to adopt new maps. At least three of the four commissioners must approve the plan. The Legislature can make only minor changes to it, and then only with a two-thirds vote in both houses. The governor's signature is not required.
If the commission fails to meet the deadline, the task would be turned over to the state Supreme Court.
Hinds County Chancery Judge Patricia Wise on Thursday moved up her trial date for redrawing congressional districts to Dec. 14, apparently trying to beat a January federal court deadline.
Wise changed her original Jan. 14 trial date after a three-judge federal panel ruled Wednesday it would step in and redraw districts if state authorities didn't have a map by Jan. 7. She expects to decide on a congressional map by Dec. 21 or Dec. 24.
Her ruling would allow the state to keep the March 1 candidate qualifying deadline. The three-judge federal panel said keeping that deadline is important to be fair to voters and potential candidates. The U.S. Justice Department, which must review Mississippi's new map, can take 60 days to make a decision.
Wise said she still believes the Legislature has time to reach a consensus on reducing Mississippi's five congressional districts into four, but she said she didn't have much time to spare.
"I believe the scheduling order is very, very tight but that is for a reason," she said.
Mississippi is losing one of its five congressional seats because the state's population grew more slowly than that of some other states in the last decade.
Lawmakers met in a special legislative session last month but couldn't agree on a new plan. Attorney General Mike Moore said he hopes court action, on the federal or state level, will provoke lawmakers to end their stalemate.
"It's a possibility for them to come back to town," he said.
The next regular session of the Legislature is Jan. 8 ó a day after the federal court deadline.
House Apportionment and Elections Chairman Tommy Reynolds, D-Charleston, said it could happen but it's probably unlikely. "You have some pretty strong differences among people," he said.
The major sticking point is how to redraw what would be the district that combines the 3rd and 4th districts currently held by a Republican and a Democrat, respectively. That task involves achieving acceptable percentages of black voting power and party voting patterns as well as geographic integrity.
Gov. Ronnie Musgrove has said he would call legislators back into session only if they had an agreed upon plan.
Reynolds said Wise's quick change was not unusual since the federal judges also expedited action on the lawsuit before them.
"We'll certainly be waiting with interest to see what happens," he said.
Marty Wiseman, director of the John C. Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State University, said the legal battles in federal and state courts make for interesting politics.
Republicans support a federal ruling on redistricting and Democrats are seeking the Chancery Court's decision.
"Now we've gone to one party championing one court and one party championing another. I've never seen anything like this, dueling courts," he said.
Wiseman said no matter what happens, redistricting would be appealed to the federal court level, but he said lawmakers should be drawing the lines.
"I'm just more comfortable with the Legislature deciding this case than the courts, and I think most Mississippians would, too," he said.
Lawyers Grant Fox of Tupelo and Keith Ball of Louisville represent a group of voters intervening in the Chancery Court case because they believe the fate of redistricting belongs in federal court. Fox said Wise's schedule for trial is "ridiculous."
Ball said they will do what they must to prepare for trial. "I guess we really don't have a choice."
Wise also accepted the motion by Moore to add the Mississippi Democratic Executive Committee and the Mississippi Republican Executive Committee as defendants in the Chancery Court case.
Moore said he wanted to make sure everyone with a stake in the issue was included.
Wise will consider motions in the case Tuesday and all names of experts and witnesses and redistricting plans must be submitted by Dec. 13.
A three-judge federal panel will step in and redraw Mississippi's congressional lines if state authorities don't do it by Jan. 7.
That's what 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Justice E. Grady Jolly and U.S. District Judges Henry T. Wingate and David Bramlette said in a court order filed Wednesday in a federal lawsuit over congressional redistricting in Mississippi.
The panel also denied a motion by the attorney general's office to dismiss the lawsuit.
The federal order came two days after Hinds County Chancery Judge Patricia Wise scheduled a Jan. 14 hearing to craft a congressional redistricting map.
Lawyers involved in the redistricting legal battles say they don't know what impact the federal order will have on Wise's hearing. Legislators or Wise could still act on congressional redistricting before the federal court's deadline.
"She's going to have to decide what to do in light of it," said Jackson lawyer Robert McDuff, who represents plaintiffs in the chancery court lawsuit.
Wise is scheduled to hold a status conference today at 2:30 p.m.
Mississippi is losing one of its five congressional districts because the state's population grew more slowly than that of some other states in the last decade.
Lawmakers, who met in a special legislative session last month, were unable to agree on a new congressional map, and some legislators still doubt a consensus can be reached in the next few weeks.
In the federal order, the judges stressed the importance of maintaining the March 1 candidate qualifying deadline. The U.S. Department of Justice has 60 days to approve Mississippi's redistricting plan.
"We think it imperative to have a plan in place by the qualifying deadline so that all election laws of the state of Mississippi can be met in a timely fashion in order to avoid candidate and voter confusion that results from the flux of delays, date changes and continuances," the order stated.
The attorney general's office had no comment on the order. Attorneys from that office have argued in both state and federal courts that congressional redistricting is a legislative function.
The regular 2002 legislative session starts Jan. 8 ó a day after the three-judge panel's deadline for stepping in.
Mississippi Republican Party Chairman Jim Herring said he was pleased with the federal panel's decision.
"This shows our federal court ó the three judge panel ó is prepared to take jurisdiction and execute jurisdiction if the state fails to meet its obligation in a timely fashion," he said.
Republican voters filed the suit in federal court, saying congressional redistricting shouldn't be resolved in a state court. Democratic activists filed the Chancery Court lawsuit.
Skip Jernigan, the attorney for plaintiffs in the federal suit, said the time line is tight because of the tough task of redistricting.
Jernigan added he was glad to see the panel was concerned about the candidate qualifying deadline.
"It should be their concern. The interests of the voters is at stake. That's the whole reason we filed this lawsuit," he said.
Wise said her ability to rule on redistricting is supported by the Mississippi Supreme Court allowing a Chancery Court to offer an opinion on the electoral process and the U.S. Supreme Court saying state courts have an important role in redistricting.
A state court here will get first crack at redrawing Mississippi's four congressional districts in the wake of the Legislature's failure to do so, but a panel of federal judges warned Wednesday they could step in by early January.
A three-judge federal panel denied a request by Republican activists to intervene immediately and draw new congressional district boundaries. But if by Jan. 7 it is not clear that the state will have a plan in place by the March 1 qualifying deadline, the judges said they would take over.
"I read the order to say that unless the state adopts some plan by Jan. 7, they are going to assert jurisdiction,'' said Hunt Cole, special assistant attorney general.
The court's ruling would seem to put pressure on Hinds County Chancellor Pat Wise. Wise wasn't scheduled to hold a trial on the redistricting until Jan. 14. But lawyers were already scheduled to meet with her this afternoon to discuss scheduling issues.
"It's unclear what the federal court is planning to do and when they're planning to do it,'' said Rob McDuff, an attorney representing Democratic activists who are asking Wise to draw districts. "We'll have to discuss that tomorrow.''
McDuff suggested the order could be interpreted in a manner that would allow the state courts to maintain control after Jan. 7, if the federal courts are convinced it was moving expeditiously.
Population shifts around the country resulted in Mississippi losing one of its five congressional districts. The Mississippi Legislature failed last month to approve new boundaries, clashing over the political makeup of a central Mississippi district likely to pit Reps. Ronnie Shows (D-Miss.) and Chip Pickering (R-Miss.) against one another.
Democratic activists are asking Wise, elected from a Democratic judicial district, to draw the districts. Republicans want federal judges, all appointed by Republican presidents, to take over.
On Wednesday, those judges - Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge E. Grady Jolly and U.S. Dist. Court Judges Henry T. Wingate and David C. Bramlette III - said that court precedents required them to give "state authorities'' a chance.
"We do note, however, that after many months of work, the state authorities have been unable to produce a plan,'' the judges wrote. "We are also mindful that the (U.S.) Department of Justice has 60 days to enter its objection to any plan adopted by state authorities . . .''
The judges said it was "imperative" for the state to have a plan approved by the Justice Department and in place by March 1 to avoid further delays and confusion.
"We're very pleased with this ruling,'' said Jim Herring, chairman of the Mississippi Republican Party. "By saying they are going to give the state until Jan. 7 to act is, we think, reasonable. It gives us through Christmas.''
Contact Jackson bureau reporter Reed Branson at (601) 352-8631.
Mississippi's redistricting squabble will go to trial Jan. 14 in Hinds County Chancery Court if lawmakers don't resolve the issue before then, a judge has decided.
Judge Patricia Wise ruled that she can hear the case because chancery court is a court of equity and "the Mississippi Supreme Court has not prohibited the chancery court from hearing cases involving electoral matters."
Wise noted the state attorney general's argument that redistricting should be decided by lawmakers.
"However, when the Legislature fails to act in a timely manner to adopt a redistricting plan, it is the duty of the court to adopt a plan," Wise wrote in a ruling filed late Monday and made public Tuesday.
Mississippi is losing one of its five congressional districts because its population grew more slowly than many other states in the 1990s. Lawmakers met for a one-week special session in early November and couldn't agree on a new map.
The legislator in charge of redistricting isn't optimistic that the state House and Senate will resolve their differences in the next few weeks.
"I guess anything is always possible. It just isn't very likely," House Apportionment and Elections Chairman Tommy Reynolds (D-Charleston) said Tuesday.
Mississippi's two newest congressmen, Republican Chip Pickering and Democrat Ronnie Shows, are likely to be tossed together into a new district that combines parts of southwest, central and east Mississippi.
Time to draw the new map is drawing tight because 2002 congressional candidates face a March 1 qualifying deadline. The U.S. Justice Department must approve Mississippi's new districts to ensure fairness to minorities, and that could take up to two months.
Democratic activists Rims Barber, Bea Branch and others filed suit in Hinds County Chancery Court in October seeking to have new districts drawn there if legislators failed to act.
"We still hope the Legislature will adopt a plan, but if it doesn't the state court has the responsibility to do that itself," Rob McDuff, attorney for those who brought the case, said Tuesday.
Gov. Ronnie Musgrove has said he'll call legislators back into special session only if they have a map in hand and ready for a vote. The regular session begins Jan. 8.
A similar lawsuit has been filed by Republican activists in U.S. District Court in Jackson. Three federal judges heard arguments on motions in that case last week and didn't immediately rule on whether the federal court will take jurisdiction over redistricting. They could also defer to the chancery court or give lawmakers more time to act.
Atty. Gen. Mike Moore, one of the state election commissioners being sued over redistricting in chancery and federal courts, said Tuesday: "The Legislature needs to fix this problem and fix it now."
DeSoto County, with its swelling neighborhoods and busy streets, is short on one important ingredient of civic life: representation in the statehouse.
Six of the seven legislative districts that include DeSoto County voters are more than 10 percent above the ideal population - a figure set to ensure an equal number of residents in each district. That means DeSoto County legislators represent a disproportionate number of citizens.
Now, as state lawmakers prepare to redraw their districts in the 2002 regular session to adjust for population shifts, the county is in line for more representation in the Mississippi Capitol. But just what form that will take remains unclear.
Four of the current seven state legislators representing all or parts of the county live outside the county, and a rising chorus of voices in DeSoto is hoping for change.
"The sentiment has been leaning in that direction," said Jim Flanagan, president of the DeSoto County Economic Development Council. "It's not that we haven't been well-represented. But we feel with the growing needs of the economy, it's important to increase representation from within our borders."
However, legislative veterans warn, an aggressive push to design DeSoto-only legislative districts could backfire.
"I don't think any decision has been made about that," said Sen. Hob Bryan (D-Amory), who chairs the Senate Elections Committee. "But the knee-jerk reaction - 'Don't split our county' - really isn't always in the best interest of a county."
In many respects, DeSoto's dilemma is another problem stemming from its rapid growth - a problem other regions of the state would love to have. With the exception of metropolitan areas around Tupelo, Jackson, Hattiesburg and the Gulf Coast, most legislative districts in the state are now too sparsely populated.
In the 1990s, DeSoto County's population grew from 67,910 to 107,199, the most dramatic growth in the state.
Two Senate districts hold DeSoto voters, one entirely within the county and the other extending into Marshall County. A decade ago after redistricting, they had approximately the same number of residents as any of the state's other Senate districts. Today, they are bursting.
While the ideal Senate district now has 54,705 residents, Senate District 1, represented by Sen. Bobby Chamberlin (R-Hernando), has 71,411. And Senate District 2, which geographically is centered in neighboring Marshall County, has 75,092 residents. It is the state's most populous district.
In the House, the picture is similar. The ideal population for a district is 23,317. But Rep. Valeria Robertson's (R-Olive Branch) District 6 has 31,404; and Rep. Wanda Jennings's (R-Southaven) District 7 has 28,987.
Rep. Tommy Woods's (R-Byhalia) District 13, geographically centered in Marshall County, has 36,740. Rep. John Mayo's (D-Clarksdale) District 25 is centered in Coahoma County, but it is connected by a thin corridor through Tunica County to the eastern edge of DeSoto.
And while Mayo's neighboring Delta districts lost population in the last decade, Mayo's own district has 29,325.
Of the seven legislators representing DeSoto county voters, only Chamberlin, Jennings and Robertson live in the county.
Strains between the interests of DeSoto and neighboring counties are rare. But they do surface. Perhaps the most notable was the county's push in the Legislature in January to let sheriff's deputies use radar to catch speeders.
While Robertson pushed the longtime priority of DeSoto County, Woods and Rep. Warner McBride (D-Courtland), whose House District 10 is more populated with voters from Panola and Marshall counties, helped defeat the measure in committee, reflecting concerns of more rural regions.
Few people in the county interviewed for this story had criticism for the delegation. But, they said, there is an increasing desire to have more county residents in Jackson.
"Someone who lives in the county will better understand the unique needs of DeSoto County and unquestionably have DeSoto County's best interests at heart," said Bill Brown, an attorney who has practiced in Hernando for 20 years. "That's not to say those who currently serve do not, because they do. But the potential is there."
Rep. Jennings of Southaven has heard such concerns. But, she said, in most instances the entire delegation has been united. "It's been my experience that the ones who don't reside in DeSoto are very cooperative members of the delegation," said Jennings.
Moreover, in a legislative system that relies heavily on seniority and leadership teams in the House and Senate, the delegation's most powerful members are actually from Marshall.
Woods, elected in 1988, is the dean of the House delegation and is a longtime ally of House Speaker Tim Ford (D-Baldwyn). And Sen. Bill Minor (D-Holly Springs) was first elected in 1980 and today chairs the powerful Senate Finance Committee.
When a county is divided into multiple legislative districts, "you've got a greater chance of having legislators with seniority and leadership," said Sen. Bryan. "Particularly if a county is united, if you can have some input with more legislators, you are better off."
Contact Jackson, Miss., Bureau reporter Reed Branson at (601) 352-8631.
Republicans asked a federal court here Friday to order candidates for Congress next year to run statewide or to draw four new districts in the wake of the Legislature's failure to do so.
Democrats and state officials, however, said federal intervention would be premature.
Mississippi lost one of its five seats in Congress as a result of the 2000 Census.
State lawmakers stalemated in November over how to draw new district lines, differing over the makeup of a district likely to pit Rep. Ronnie Shows, a Democrat, against Rep. Chip Pickering, a Republican.
Democrats are asking a state judge elect ed from predominantly Democratic Hinds County to draw the boundaries, while Republicans are turning to federal judges appointed by Republican presidents.
"If Gov. Ronnie Musgrove believes in the motion filed (by the state attorney general to dismiss the case), he should put the state's money where his mouth is," said Michael Wallace, attorney for the state Republican Executive Committee. "Unless he puts the Legislature back into special session, this case is as ripe as it is ever going to get and it's time for somebody to start making some decisions."
Wallace and other Republicans argued that state and federal law requires that when such a deadlock occurs, candidates run statewide. Democrats said such a move would dilute black voting strength. And, they argued, those laws have been trumped by subsequent congressional legislation.
Omar Nelson, an attorney for the Democratic Executive Committee, and Rob McDuff, an attorney representing Democratic activists who are suing in Hinds County Chancery Court, said the U.S. Supreme Court has told federal courts to allow state courts to act first.
McDuff told the federal judges that he is preparing a redistricting plan to submit to Hinds County Chancellor Pat Wise. Only after she makes a decision on a plan, he said, would the federal courts have a proper role.
Hunt Cole, an attorney representing the state, argued that a March 1 qualifying deadline was not particularly urgent since candidates for Congress could qualify without knowing the specific boundaries of districts.
"Don't you think it's important to know what districts they're running in?" asked U.S. Dist. Judge Henry Wingate.
Fifth U.S. Circuit Appeals Judge Grady Jolly, who is presiding, asked, "When do we quit waiting for the Legislature?"
Contact Jackson, Miss., Bureau reporter Reed Branson at (601) 352-8631.
A Hinds County chancery judge on Monday urged the Legislature and Gov. Ronnie Musgrove to renew their efforts to implement a congressional redistricting plan as soon as possible.
However, if lawmakers fail to do their duty, Judge Pat Wise says the state's courts must be prepared to step in.
"In light of the Legislature's recent failure to pass a plan during the special session, this court must be ready to act promptly in the event the stalemate continues," she said in an order filed Monday.
The judge's comments were part of her ruling to deny the state's request to drop a complaint filed on behalf of eight Mississippians.
Since lawmakers haven't been able to reach a consensus, the plaintiffs' attorney, Robert McDuff of Jackson, said it's necessary to have a plan of action to maintain the March 1 candidate qualifying deadline.
Mississippi is losing one of its five congressional seats because the 2000 Census shows it grew more slowly than many other states in the 1990s.
During a hearing Monday McDuff requested hearings Dec. 11 and 12 to discuss drawing new congressional districts with a final decision on a plan Dec. 14.
Wise is expected to rule on McDuff's request next week and on a second motion from the state attorney general's office to dismiss the case.
Attorney General Mike Moore opposed scheduling a hearing. He said during Monday's hearing it doesn't seem possible for the court to redraw congressional districts in such a short time.
"It appears the plaintiffs in the case can do in two days what the Legislature has not been able to do for quite some time," he said.
Musgrove ended a special session on redistricting Nov. 7 after a week without progress. House Apportionment and Elections Committee Chairman Tommy Reynolds, D-Charleston, testified Monday that it's possible lawmakers could continue working toward an agreement on how to redraw Mississippi's five congressional districts into four.
"Is it likely? That's another question," Reynolds said. "It is a responsibility of the Legislature, but after days and days and hours and hours, it has not been possible for a plan to be produced."
Moore said congressional redistricting should be the work of the Legislature, not the courts, and lawmakers could adopt a plan during the 2002 session that starts in January or change the qualifying deadline. He said lawmakers could adopt a plan in January or February and still keep the March 1 qualifying deadline.
McDuff said the intent of the lawsuit isn't to take away the Legislature's authority but to ensure a timely election if lawmakers can't reach an agreement.
"The attorney general seems to indicate we want to take the ball away from the Legislature. The Legislature has dropped the ball and walked away," he said.
McDuff said voters need time to know how their new districts are drawn, and the U.S. Justice Department needs at least 60 days to approve a redistricting map. Both the governor and the state's congressional delegation have said they want the March 1 deadline to remain.
Musgrove hasn't scheduled another special session on redistricting, but his spokesman, John Sewell, said Monday the governor still encourages the Legislature to reach an agreement.
Moore also asked Wise to dismiss the case on the grounds that the State Board of Election Commissioners isn't the proper defendant. He said the board, which includes Moore, Musgrove and Secretary of State Eric Clark, has nothing to do with redistricting.
Moore said the court couldn't order the board to do anything in redistricting because the commissioners' role is to administer election laws. Wise denied the previous motion to dismiss the lawsuit on the basis it was premature.
She said it would be "irresponsible" to dismiss the case considering the Legislature's impasse.
While the debate over the lawsuit continues, Wise has granted permission for other state residents to intervene in the case. Tupelo lawyer Grant Fox said he plans to file a motion to dismiss the lawsuit on behalf of former Tupelo City Councilwoman Carolyn Mauldin, Tupelo banker Stacy Spearman, Louisville resident David Mitchell and Jackson cardiologist James Clay Hays Jr.
Fox said the plaintiffs question whether Chancery Court is the right venue for a congressional redistricting plan to be drawn. Another lawsuit is pending in federal court.
Mississippi House and Senate negotiators haven't scheduled a meeting to work out an agreement on how Mississippi's new congressional districts should look, increasing the likelihood that a judge will draw the new map.
Gov. Ronnie Musgrove ended a special session on redistricting Nov. 7 after a week without progress.
House Apportionment and Elections Committee Chairman Tommy Reynolds and Senate Elections Committee Chairman Hob Bryan both say they're open to talking, but they also say they have already compromised as much as possible.
"The Senate feels like we've done everything in the world," Bryan said, except putting southern Madison County in the northern district and Lauderdale County in the southern district as House members want.
Reynolds said he remains hopeful an agreement can be achieved on how to carve Mississippi's five congressional districts into four, but he said some fellow House members don't agree with the compromises House negotiators have already made.
"I've gone past my limit, really, for what the House members would go with. At some point, they're going to say, 'When are you going to stand up for the House position?' " Reynolds said.
He said he doesn't want congressional redistricting to end up in court, but if it does, Reynolds said he thinks a plan could be drawn in time to keep the March 1 candidate qualifying deadline in place.
Since the U.S. Justice Department must approve any congressional redistricting plan before elections proceed, a judge would need to draw the lines by the end of January to keep the March 1 date. The Justice Department has 60 days after receiving a plan to clear it.
Mississippi is losing a seat because the 2000 Census shows it grew more slowly than many other states in the 1990s.
Lawsuits have been filed in Hinds County Chancery Court and U.S. District Court. The filing in Chancery Court is seen as a Democratic move and the filing in federal court is labeled as a Republican counteraction.
In the federal court case, plaintiffs have asked that a three-judge panel be appointed to allow statewide at-large elections or to draw a new map.
State law says if no congressional map is in place in time for the elections, "the whole number (of representatives) shall be chosen by the electors of the state at large."
"That's possible only in the minds of the Republicans who filed (the lawsuit)," said Bryan, D-Amory. "That's just not going to happen."
Bryan said the state law must be approved by the Justice Department before it can be used, and that's not going to happen because an at-large election would violate black voting power in the state.
Bryan said he can't predict whether the March 1 qualifying deadline will be changed, but he does think the June primaries may be delayed until a plan winds its way through the court system.
The state attorney general's office has asked that both lawsuits be dismissed, on the grounds they are premature, along with other arguments.
"There is still substantial time for the Legislature to enact a congressional redistricting plan," Special Assistant Attorney General Hunt Cole said Friday. "Redistricting is really a legislative function."
However, Hinds County Chancery Judge Patrice Wise last week denied the state's request to drop the lawsuit filed by social activist Rims Barber and former state NAACP President Bea Branch.
The attorney general's office not only believes redistricting is a function of the Legislature but also questions whether the Hinds County Chancery Court has jurisdiction to consider the matter now, Cole said. "We are evaluating whether to seek relief in the state Supreme Court regarding this matter."
Rob McDuff, the plaintiffs' lawyer in the state case, responded: "An appeal of Judge Wise's decision at this point would not only be wrong as a matter of law, but also it would be irresponsible. Someone must be prepared to enact a new plan if the legislative stalemate continues. Under the law that job belongs to the state courts."
McDuff noted the attorney general's office has argued only that the lawsuit is premature, not that the state court lacks jurisdiction.
McDuff, citing a 1993 case, said the U.S. Supreme Court has said "state courts have a significant role in redistricting."
"I hope the attorney general does not choose to argue that only the federal courts can resolve the legislative impasse," McDuff said. "That would, in my view, be something of an insult to the state courts of Mississippi."
Lawyers are scheduled to meet again Monday before Wise.
Richland Mayor Shirley Hall, one of three plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit, said she helped file the lawsuit because "I'm not sure (the Hinds County Chancery Court) is the fair place to do it, to make that kind of decision."
Another plaintiff, Meridian Mayor John Robert Smith, said he wants to protect the interests of Meridian and Lauderdale County by keeping them in the same congressional district to continue economic development.
"We have a major military installation and we ask to not be paired with any other military installation," said Smith, who, like Hall, is a Republican. "Mississippi State University has a Meridian campus and MSU is very closely tied to a number of projects developing in the city. We ask that Meridian be included with the Starkville campus."
U.S. District Judge Henry T. Wingate has begun the steps to convene a three-judge panel. Last week he asked the chief justice of the 5th U.S. Circuit of Appeals to certify the panel to hear a defense request filed Wednesday to dismiss the case and the plaintiffs' request for a preliminary injunction. The approval of the panel, which would include Wingate, could happen within a week.