Clarion-Ledger: "Remap is like musical chairs." June
State Sen. Walter Michel now has Nissan. State Rep. John Reeves is spending a lot more time in Rankin County. Sen. Deborah Dawkins will no longer have some of her closest constituents. And Sen. Hillman Frazier will be reunited with old friends in Clinton.
With the new state redistricting maps for the 2004 elections now approved by the U.S. Department of Justice, legislators must adjust to different voting boundaries. They are rethinking campaign strategies to reach out to their revised districts and preparing to part with old territory and embrace new constituents.
Rep. May Whittington, whose district absorbed some rural areas, is learning that voters are not as accessible as they used to be.
"You don't go door-to-door," she said. "You go field- to-field."
Whittington, D-Schlater, who once represented parts of two counties, now represents segments of six, including Carroll, Humphreys, Leflore, Montgomery, Washington and Holmes counties. She has already started changing her driving route to Jackson so she can stop in community stores and introduce herself.
The changes, based on data from the 2000 Census, are part of a once-a-decade redistricting process that resulted this year in some districts disappearing and others being divided. The Justice Department's uneventful approval last week was in stark contrast to the partisan wrangling that unfolded recently over the new congressional maps.
Districts held by one Republican senator, two Republican representatives and one independent House member are disappearing. In the Senate, half of a new seat falls in heavily Republican DeSoto County. Four House seats were also created ó two in DeSoto County, one in Madison and Rankin counties and one in Harrison and Hancock counties.
While Sen. Billy Hewes, R-Gulfport, is happy with changes to his district, he has sympathy for Sen. Ezell Lee, D-Picayune, whose adjoining district, he said, was significantly gerrymandered.
"It's like an octopus. You've got a group of constituents in this narrow band down here in Jackson County ... then it comes back down to central Harrison County," Hewes said. "Then it goes across and goes up to Pearl River County, and it's also in Stone County."
"I don't see how anyone who is elected to that district can effectively represent (constituents) relative to those folks who do have fairly geographically contiguous districts."
Whittington said her new district also is going to be confusing to voters. "It's going to take a good bit of information for people to understand that I'm just on top of (Leflore) County. I'm trying to start right now."
For some residents, the new maps mean a chance to help lawmakers get acclimated to the changes.
Winona resident Jiles Edwards, 76, Whittington's longtime family friend, has already planned for Whittington to come speak to his church and introduce herself to voters in one of the many new precincts that dot the six-county area she could represent next fall.
"She's a darn good woman. I'm going to help her all I can help her 'cause I want to see her get elected," Edwards said.
Reeves, R-Jackson, who has represented southeast Jackson for the last 16 years, will represent portions of Rankin County if re-elected. He said he's already written a letter to Richland Mayor Shirley Hall and talked with business leaders in the county.
Hall said she's invited Reeves and other legislators representing the city to a July 2 town hall meeting so residents can meet them. The mayor said she has some concerns about having an additional senator and three representatives, rather than one.
"They're all good men. I have nothing against them. I don't like being sliced up. It's been nice to have one representative and one senator to call," Hall said.
Frazier, D-Jackson, picked up about 12,000 people in his district, gaining the city of Clinton, where he used to attend church and sing in the choir. "It's not like it's a brand-new, strange district. It's just like I'm incorporating people I've been working with all along over the years," he said.
"When you're elected in the metro area, you really serve without boundaries because people call you all over the district, all over town, all over the state."
Michel, R-Jackson, whose district gained the Nissan auto plant in Canton, has already lobbied his colleagues to support a new Madison County school to accommodate the growth resulting from the plant, now under construction.
"I anticipate a substantial growth in the number of people that will be in the district two to three years down the road," he said. "When we come to redistricting in the year 2010, I fully anticipate my district will have way too many people from the growth."
Dawkins, D-Pass Christian, said the good news about her district is it is now physically smaller and easier to represent.
"The bad news is that I lost some of my good old friends," she said. "The precinct that I live in, which has always voted kind of en masse, has been split three ways, and I know that the people have no idea how messed up it's going to be when they go to vote next time."
Mary Spinks-Thigten, a Gulfport resident moved out of Dawkins' district, said she'll feel the loss. "She's a great senator and she cares about the people," she said.
Dawkins is concerned voters will feel waylaid at election time by the precinct splits and other district changes. "The circuit clerk and the secretary of state are going to have to help with information, materials and advertising."
Myrtis Bell, a 63-year old Gulfport resident who is no longer in Dawkins' district, said she is still confused about the voting boundaries.
"I don't know whose district they put us in," Bell said.
WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court agreed Monday to referee a congressional boundary dispute from Mississippi, a victory for Democrats who are contesting a plan that helps Republicans.
The case will be the first reviewed by the court over boundaries drawn using 1990 census data. Plans by many other states are also being contested.
The court did not intervene in time to affect this year's election, however. Primaries were held last week in districts favorable to Republicans approved by a federal panel earlier this year.
Mississippi is losing one of its five congressional seats because of sluggish population growth in the 1990s, and incumbents Chip Pickering and Ronnie Shows are competing for one seat.
The ultimate question is which court-drawn plan becomes Mississippi's map - one that favors the Republican drawn by a federal three-judge panel or a state judge's plan that would make it easier for a Democrat like Shows to win.
The federal panel ruled that the state judge didn't have a constitutional right to get involved in this congressional redistricting challenge.
Robert McDuff, the lawyer for a group of Democrats, told the Supreme Court that the ruling "if affirmed, will leave congressional redistricting disputes almost entirely to the federal courts."
He said in the past year state courts around the country have been involved in redistricting fights, including courts in Colorado, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, and Texas.
The Republicans' attorney, Michael B. Wallace, said framers of the Constitution would have been "astounded" to see a state court with power over federal elections. He said if state judges had that authority, some legislators may refuse to draw new maps and "choose instead to seek political results from selected state judges."
Every 10 years states must redraw boundaries for congressional and legislative districts to reflect population shifts found in the census.
Mississippi's redistricting took a messy turn last year when competing plans split the Democrat-controlled Legislature. That left the boundary-drawing to the courts.
A group of Democrats asked a state judge to settle the matter. Republicans went to federal court.
The dispute has been high profile because Mississippi is one of four states where incumbents of opposite parties are vying for the same seat. The others are Connecticut, Illinois and Pennsylvania, with some states still working on plans.
The Supreme Court will hear arguments in the term that begins next fall in the Mississippi case. Mississippi's case is more complicated because the Justice Department oversees state elections to ensure fairness to minorities, a requirement because of the state's history of racial oppression.
Democrats had accused the Bush administration and the Justice Department of playing political games with Mississippi redistricting by delaying consideration of the state court plan.
The Justice Department said because the plan was blocked by a federal court, it was not valid. In Mississippi, there was little doubt that the central Mississippi districts of Pickering and Shows would be combined. At issue was how.
Lawyers for both sides used the Supreme Court's 2000 ruling in Bush v. Gore to bolster their arguments in filings with the high court.
The court has heard arguments in one other case that would affect congressional elections, and potentially the makeup of the House.
Justices will decide this month whether to abolish a 40-year-old census technique that Utah claims cost the state a House seat to North Carolina. If the court rules that the Census Bureau gathered population data using illegal or unconstitutional methods, a portion of the final 2000 data would be thrown out.
The cases are Branch v. Smith, 01-1437 and Smith v. Branch, 01-1596.
With little debate, the Mississippi House voted 105-11 Thursday to give final approval to the Senate's redistricting plan.
Senators were to consider the House plan. By tradition, each chamber rubber stamps the other's map without any changes.
"It's sort of like you had in the Cold War, mutually assured destruction between the United States and the Soviet Union," said House Apportionment and Elections Chairman Tommy Reynolds, D-Charleston. "If a war started, we both would be in bad shape."
Mississippi's 122 House districts and 52 Senate districts must be redrawn every 10 years to reflect population changes revealed by the census.
Gov. Ronnie Musgrove has no say in redistricting. The U.S. Justice Department must examine the new maps to ensure fairness to minorities. If Justice approves, the maps will be used for the next decade.
The Supreme Court yesterday turned down an emergency appeal of a Mississippi congressional redistricting plan that has provoked a bitter dispute involving accusations of personal and political favoritism on the part of federal judges and the Justice Department.
The dispute involves the creation of a new congressional district that would pit two incumbents, Reps. Charles W. "Chip" Pickering Jr. (R) and Ronnie Shows (D), against each other because the Mississippi delegation must be cut from five to four House members as a result of a decade of slow population growth.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) has begun an inquiry into what role GOP political appointees at the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division had in determining Mississippi's redistricting plan, and Democrats are challenging the ethics of federal judges who ruled on the case.
Initially, a Democratic county judge approved a new district for Shows and Pickering that would have had a 37.5 percent black voting-age population -- a strong Democratic base. But the Justice Department delayed granting "preclearance" as required by the Voting Rights Act. That prompted a three-member federal panel, all Republican appointees, to intervene Tuesday and order the use of its plan for the 2002 election. The federal plan reduced the black population in the district to 30 percent, adding many white, strongly Republican precincts east of Jackson.
The panel's ruling was immediately appealed to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who oversees cases from the region. He rejected it within hours, prompting an appeal to the full court. Scalia's ruling raised sharp criticism from Democrats and the state's largest newspaper.
Pickering campaign manager Henry Barbour said Scalia is a good friend of the Pickering family and often has gone turkey hunting with the House member's father, federal Judge Charles W. Pickering Sr., sometimes joined by the younger Pickering. Rep. Pickering has a picture of himself, his father and Scalia on the wall of his Washington office.
"The Supreme Court justice has not only visited Mississippi to turkey hunt with the elder Pickering, but when Chip Pickering was sworn in to Congress, Scalia presided with Judge Pickering administering the oath," the Jackson Clarion-Ledger editorialized. "Justice Scalia should have recused himself from Tuesday's decision."
Democratic National Committee Chairman Terence R. McAuliffe said: "Perhaps the most questionable decision in this redistricting case was made by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. . . . Justice Scalia has personal ties to the interested parties in this case, as a close friend of the Pickering family."
A spokesman for the Supreme Court said Scalia declined to comment on his ties to the Pickering family.
The "Guide to Judiciary Policies and Procedures" states that a "judge shall disqualify himself or herself in a proceeding in which the judge's impartiality might reasonably be questioned . . .." Individual judges are to make their own decisions about disqualification.
Barbour defended Scalia's ruling: "To me, the issue is the law and the facts," he said. "Here it seems they [the three-judge federal panel] have followed the law, they have followed the facts," he said.
The redistricting issue has another complexity: Judge Pickering serves with two of the district court judges who are on the panel reviewing the case involving his son -- Henry T. Wingate and David C. Bramlette. Pickering Sr. has been nominated for a circuit court of appeals seat, where he would serve with the panel's third judge, E. Grady Jolly.
Democrats questioned the propriety of the judge's colleagues and friends ruling on a case affecting the political future of his son. They provided a copy of a letter by Wingate endorsing the senior Pickering's nomination. "More than just colleagues, we spent quality time together discussing not only our judicial concerns, but also the plight of our country relative to the race issue."
Democrats said yesterday they plan a more extensive appeal later this year in hopes of changing district lines by the 2004 elections.
A three-judge federal panel yesterday imposed a Mississippi congressional redistricting plan putting Rep. Charles W. "Chip" Pickering Jr. (R) and Rep. Ronnie Shows (D) together in a district that favors the Republican.
An appeal to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was rejected hours later.
The outcome infuriated Democrats and civil rights advocates who argued that black voters will have far less influence under the federal court plan than they would have under a state court plan ruled unconstitutional by the federal panel. The state and federal courts entered the dispute after the state legislature was unable to agree on new congressional district lines.
The federal court acted in part because the Justice Department had delayed granting "preclearance" approval to the state plan as required by the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Districts had to be in place so that candidates preparing to run could meet the March 1 filing deadline for federal office in Mississippi.
Rep. Martin Frost (D-Tex.), who has overseen national Democratic redistricting strategy, attacked political appointees at the Justice Department, charging they "cynically manipulated the Voting Rights Act to help Republicans by hurting African American voters. . . . The Bush Justice Department has abused its most fundamental duty -- fairly enforcing America's civil rights."
Yesterday, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) submitted written questions to Attorney General John D. Ashcroft asking whether career attorneys recommended approval of the state plan and whether they were overruled by political appointees.
Asked whether that was the case, Justice Department spokesman Dan Nelson said, "We don't comment on internal deliberative documents," referring to recommendations made by the career staff. "I couldn't give you any guidance on that." He said no one from the White House tried to influence departmental consideration of the Mississippi case.
Career lawyers in the voting rights division at Justice declined to discuss their recommendations or views about the Mississippi case. Former career lawyers contended, however, that the preclearance delays were based on questions that are not a legitimate part of a voting rights review. The questions raised by Justice involved the legality of a Mississippi Chancery Court ordering a redistricting plan.
Paul Hancock, a former deputy assistant attorney general for civil rights, said preclearance review is limited to just one question: "only whether the submitted plan is retrogressive in purpose or effect." He said the Justice letter questioning the state court plan "seems to be much more political in nature than programatic."
The three-judge panel, all GOP appointees, went substantially beyond the preclearance issue in ordering its own plan into effect.
The federal judges -- E. Grady Jolly, Henry T. Wingate and David C. Bramlette -- wrote that under Article 1, Section 4 of the Constitution -- "The Times, Places and manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof" -- the state court had no authority to draw new congressional districts.
"We can only conclude that the requirements [of the Constitution] were not met in this case, as there has been no indication that the chancery court had any legislative authority to draw the state's districts."
Under the rejected state court plan, Shows and Pickering would have been placed in a district in which blacks, a heavily Democratic constituency, made up 37.5 percent of the voting age population. Under the federal court plan, blacks make up 30 percent.
Scalia, who handles emergency appeals from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas, has a number of ties to the Pickering family. In 1997, the Associated Press reported that Scalia presided over Pickering's first congressional swearing-in ceremony and that Pickering's father, U.S. District Judge Charles Pickering, arranged a trip for Scalia to Mississippi to give a speech.
A new Mississippi congressional map drawn by three Republican-appointed judges is moving closer to becoming a reality.
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia denied an emergency appeal filed by an attorney who wants a Democrat-backed map drawn by a state judge. Scalia's denial on Tuesday came hours after the three federal judges in Jackson ordered that the state use their map.
The lawyer, Robert McDuff of Jackson, immediately refiled his emergency appeal with Justice David H. Souter. McDuff said Souter can take up the appeal or, more likely, forward it to the full court.
``This is obviously a setback,'' said McDuff, who expected some word from the court within a week.
Mississippi was forced to give up one of its five U.S. House seats after Census figures showed slowing population growth in the 1990s.
The redistricting ended up in the courts after state lawmakers were unable to agree on their own map. Democrats sued in chancery court and Republicans sued in federal court.
Hinds County Chancery Judge Patricia Wise drew up the plan backed by Democrats, while the federal judges came up with their own.
In ordering that their map be used, the federal judges said it's unconstitutional for a chancery judge rather than the Legislature to draw a redistricting plan.
The federal judges said their plan would be used until the state produces a redistricting map that the Justice Department agrees is fair to minorities.
``We're obviously very pleased that the U.S. Supreme Court denied the emergency petition of the Democrats,'' said Grant Fox of Tupelo, an attorney who has represented Republicans in state and federal court redistricting fights.
No matter which plan is used, Rep. Chip Pickering, a Republican, and Rep. Ronnie Shows, a Democrat, will meet in a new consolidated district.
The federal judges' plan puts heavily Republican, suburban Jackson precincts in the new district where Pickering and Shows will face off.
Wise's plan puts those precincts in a district that dips down from northern Mississippi and gives the new district a higher concentration of black voters, who often vote Democratic.
Congressional candidates' qualifying deadline is Friday. Primaries are June 4 and the general election is Nov. 5.
Scalia handles emergency appeals from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (news - web sites), which covers Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.
Scalia presided over Pickering's first swearing-in ceremony to Congress in 1997.
The justice also has spoken in Mississippi several times since the early 1990s. One trip in 1996 was arranged by Pickering's father, U.S. District Judge Charles Pickering, who is awaiting Senate action on his nomination to the 5th Circuit.
The curtain fell at 5 p.m. Monday on the latest act in Mississippi's congressional redistricting drama.
The next time it rises could be in the U. S. Supreme Court.
The U.S. Department of Justice did not act by a federal three-judge panel's deadline for approving a state court map, thus paving the way for the panel to put in place today its design for the state's four new congressional districts.
The judges said last week if the Justice Department didn't approve the state court map, their plan would take effect so the state could keep Friday's qualifying deadline for U.S. House candidates.
The state court map, approved by Hinds County Chancery Judge Patricia Wise on Dec. 21, is believed to favor Democrats, while the federal map is believed to favor Republicans.
Mississippi is losing a congressional seat because its population grew more slowly than many other states'.
Reducing the state from five to four congressional districts is the job of the state Legislature. But lawmakers could not agree, especially on how to shape the new district that merges the area now represented by Mississippi's two freshmen representatives, Chip Pickering, a Republican from the 3rd District, and Ronnie Shows, a Democrat from the 4th District.
Democrats sued in state court, resulting in Wise's plan; Republicans sued in federal court, resulting in the federal panel's map.
The Justice Department is required to review the state court plan to ensure minority voting strength is not diluted.
The new district in Wise's plan contains a 37 percent black voting-age population, while the federal court map contains a 30 percent black voting-age population.
Rob McDuff, an attorney for the Democrats, has filed an emergency appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court to enforce the state map. McDuff said the nation's highest court could act before Friday.
The uncertainty over which map will be used, however, has not kept candidates from emerging. Clinton LeSueur, a Republican, and George E. Irvin Sr., a Democrat, announced Thursday they are seeking the 2nd District seat held by Bennie Thompson, a Democrat.
New York Times
The Bush administration Justice Department is using its authority under the Voting Rights Act to block a redistricting plan for Congressional seats in Mississippi that was drawn by a black state judge and is supported by blacks and Democrats here.
The department questions whether a lower-court state judge should have the authority to draft a Congressional district map for the entire state.
Because of the department's action, the plan likely to be imposed on the state is one written by a panel of white, Republican-appointed federal judges and is favorable to Republican candidates.
Bitter redistricting battles involving bare-knuckle politics are being waged all over the country as states revise their Congressional district maps to take account of population changes reported in the 2000 census. The outcome of these battles could determine which party controls the House of Representatives after the November election.
Nowhere is the fight more byzantine than in Mississippi.
Experts on the Voting Rights Act from both parties said in interviews today that they could not recall another instance when the Justice Department had blocked a redistricting plan that was clearly favorable to blacks. The act, one of the landmark civil rights laws of the 1960's, was designed to prevent discrimination against minority voters.
Dan Nelson, a spokesman for the department, said the move was not motivated by partisan considerations. "The question," Mr. Nelson said, "is not just whether this plan is fair to minority voters but whether the process is fair in this case and in future rounds of redistricting."
The main issue, he said, was whether it was proper for a state judge elected in one district to write a redistricting plan for the entire state, a procedure the Mississippi Supreme Court has upheld. Someday, he said, a white judge might draw a map that was disadvantageous to blacks.
The fight over redistricting involves several odd twists.
The Republican congressman who stands to benefit if the state judge's plan is blocked, Representative Charles W. Pickering Jr., is the son of the federal judge whose nomination by President Bush to the federal court of appeals is being thwarted by Democrats in the Senate.
The panel whose redistricting map is likely to be imposed is comprised of two federal trial judges who are colleagues of Judge Pickering and one who sits on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which he wants to join.
The governor here is a Democrat and both houses of the Legislature are controlled by Democrats, a situation that should have guaranteed an unfavorable outcome for the Republicans, but the Democratic Party is so riven by internal rivalries and sectional disputes that the politicians were paralyzed.
Normally in legal disputes, Republicans advocate states' rights and Democrats strive to get matters into federal court, but in this case the roles are reversed.
Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee, led by Representative John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, the senior member of the Congressional Black Caucus, wrote to President Bush last week to complain that the Justice Department action "turns the Voting Rights Act on its head."
Representative Pickering, on the other hand, said justice was being done because the federal court map has compact districts. The Democrats, he said, "want to gerrymander the state in a way that has never been done before."
Mr. Pickering said his father's confirmation as an appeals judge had become caught up in the redistricting fight. The Democratic strategy, he said, was to demonize the Pickering name and to hold his father's confirmation hostage for a redistricting outcome favorable to Democrats.
Judge Pickering seems to enjoy strong support from blacks in Laurel, Miss., his hometown, but that backing does not extend to the state's black political leaders. In Washington, Democratic senators have criticized his stands on civil rights matters on and off the bench.
Mississippi now has five seats in the House of Representatives, two held by white Democrats, two by white Republicans and one by a black Democrat. The state lost a seat as a result of the 2000 census, a reflection of the slow population growth here in the 1990's.
The Legislature spent last year trying to draw a new, four-district map, but no agreement could be reached. The only consensus was that the state's most junior congressmen, Mr. Pickering and Ronnie Shows (rhymes with cows), a white Democrat who enjoys strong support from blacks, would be pitted against each other in a new district.
With the Legislature stymied, Democrats took the matter to the state chancery court, a trial court that handles civil cases. On Dec. 21, Judge Patricia Wise approved a map that would have Mr. Pickering and Mr. Shows compete in a district in which 37.5 percent of the voting-age population would be black.
The racial composition of districts is crucial in Mississippi because nearly all blacks vote Democratic and a large percentage of whites vote Republican.
Some of the districts on Judge Wise's map would be oddly shaped. Republicans derided it as the "tornado plan" because a district in the northern part of the state would swoop down like a funnel into the center of the state to pick up some of the Jackson suburbs.
Chancery court judges do not run with party labels, but Judge Wise is black and was elected from a heavily Democratic district.
Because of Mississippi's history of discrimination, the Voting Rights Act requires the Justice Department to certify that changes in the state's election laws and procedures do not discriminate against minority voters. The certification process is known as preclearance.
So on Dec. 26, the state attorney general, Mike Moore, sent the plan and supporting documents to the department in Washington.
Under the law, the Justice Department has 60 days to review a plan. Mr. Moore asked the department to act quickly because the filing deadline for Congressional races in Mississippi is March 1.
But the state did not hear from Washington until last Thursday when it received a five-page list of detailed questions that the department said needed to be answered before it could give preclearance. None of the questions implied that the state court plan was discriminatory, but they centered on the question of the authority of Judge Wise.
Mr. Moore's office worked on the questions through the weekend and sent the replies to Washington on Tuesday night. Theoretically, the Justice Department has another 60 days to review the replies, and if it uses that time, the plan could not be in place by the filing deadline.
During the long hiatus, Republicans took the matter to federal court. Last week, a panel consisting of Judge E. Grady Jolly of the United States Court of Appeals, Judge David C. Bramlette and Henry T. Wingate of Federal District Court, all put on the bench by Republican presidents, put forward a redistricting map in which 30.4 percent of the voting-age population would be black, a plan more advantageous to Representative Pickering.
On Tuesday, the panel announced that it would impose its plan unilaterally if the Justice Department had not granted preclearance to the state plan by next Monday. Redistricting plans drawn by federal courts do not require Justice Department certification.
Mr. Nelson, the Justice Department spokesman, said he did not know if the department could act one way or the other by Monday. The review has taken a long time, he said, because it is a complicated case.
"As with all voting changes," Mr. Nelson said, "the department will render its decision based on the facts before it and the relevant law and will do so in a consistent and principled fashion."
Robert B. McDuff, a lawyer for the Democrats, filed an emergency appeal today to the United States Supreme Court seeking to stop the federal plan. He conceded that winning the appeal was a long shot.
Mr. Shows is furious.
"The deck is stacked against me," he said. "The Justice Department is sticking it to me because of pure partisan politics."
A three-judge federal panel, apparently growing restless in waiting for the U.S. Department of Justice to approve a new congressional map for Mississippi, has given the department until Monday to act or it will step in.
If by 5 p.m. that day the Justice Department has not precleared a redistricting map approved by Hinds County Chancery Judge Patricia Wise, then the federal panel's design will take effect, the judges said Tuesday.
The judges ó 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge E. Grady Jolly and U.S. District Court Judges Henry T. Wingate and David C. Bramlette ó have said it's necessary to assert their jurisdiction to maintain the March 1 qualifying deadline for congressional candidates to avoid voter and candidate confusion.
In an earlier ruling, the panel said it would put its plan in place if the Justice Department failed to adopt the state court plan in a timely manner but didn't set a deadline.
Mississippi Republicans and Democrats are locked in a battle over redistricting. The map adopted by Wise is believed to favor Democrats, while the federal panel's map is believed to favor Republicans.
The state's two junior congressmen, Democratic 4th District Rep. Ronnie Shows and Republican 3rd District Rep. Chip Pickering, are expected to compete in a district created from merging the areas they now represent.
Rob McDuff of Jackson, a lawyer for Democratic defendants, said he plans to file an emergency appeal today to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to block use of the federal court plan and enforce the state court map, even if it's not approved by Monday's deadline.
"It's clear that the Department of Justice has intentionally delayed this process," McDuff said. "Because that delay is inappropriate and because prior (U.S.) Supreme Court decisions require deference to state court plans, we think the Supreme Court might agree with us."
Grant Fox of Tupelo, a lawyer for Republican plaintiffs, said, "Any appeal the Democrats would take to the U.S. Supreme Court would be unsuccessful" because of questions surrounding a Chancery Court's authority to rule in redistricting.
"It's obvious that the federal court understands that a congressional redistricting plan has to be in place by March 1. I think that in the end the federal court will find Judge Wise didn't have any statutory authority to reapportion the state," he said.
Last week, the Justice Department requested additional information from the state regarding Mississippi's Chancery Court system and Wise's redistricting authority. The state submitted the plan for review on Dec. 26 and asked for an expedited review by Jan. 31. Justice Department officials said a new 60-day review period would begin upon receipt of the information.
Jonathan Compretta, special assistant state attorney general, said most of the requested information was faxed to the Justice Department on Tuesday. The rest was to be delivered overnight.
"We've asked them for expedited consideration. It's our hope that with this additional information the Justice Department will be able to preclear the state court plan in time for the March 1 congressional deadline," Compretta said.
The Justice Department also sent a letter to state Supreme Court Chief Justice Edwin Pittman last week asking to expedite an appeal of Wise's map by the Republicans.
Mississippi is losing one of its five congressional seats because its population growth lagged behind that of many other states. The courts became involved in redrawing district lines after the Legislature did not agree on a plan.
McDuff, Shows and 2nd District Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Democrat, have alleged that approval of the Chancery Court plan has been tied up in partisan politics.
Democrats on the U.S. House Judiciary Committee sent President Bush a letter Friday urging him to push the Justice Department to approve Mississippi's new congressional voting map, and Shows and Thompson wrote to Ralph Boyd, the assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division, in support of releasing records and information regarding meetings with Republican lawyers.
Thompson said Tuesday there had been no response to the records request. He added he wasn't surprised considering the matter involves "a Republican Justice Department and three federal judges appointed by Republican presidents."
Thompson added, "I'm still convinced it's a state court matter and that in the end, I think we will have a plan adopted by the state court judge to be a lawful plan."
Wise's past political affiliation has been as a Democrat, and Republicans allege that's the reason the Chancery Court lawsuit that resulted in the state map ended up in her hands.
Pickering's campaign manager, Henry Barbour, said they have always maintained the Chancery Court lacks jurisdiction in the case. "Now for the Department of Justice and the federal court to ask under what statutory authority is there for the Chancery Court to act seems to be a very reasonable question and actually a fundamental question," Barbour said.
The federal judges have asked attorneys in the redistricting case to submit briefs by Friday on what authority a chancery judge has to draw new district lines. That was one of the questions the Justice Department asked of Attorney General Mike Moore last week.
Shows' chief of staff, Glenn Rushing, said he's optimistic the Justice Department will approve the state court plan. "We feel like they'll live up to the letter of the law," Rushing said.
A federal three-judge panel has asked attorneys in Mississippi's congressional redistricting case to submit briefs on what authority a chancery judge has to draw new district lines. That was one of the questions asked by the Justice Department of Atty. Gen. Mike Moore last week.
In an order made public Monday, Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Grady Jolly asked attorneys for Democrats and Republicans to explain whether the U.S. Constitution requires legislatures to grant authority to state courts to redraw congressional districts and where that authority can be found in Mississippi law.
Jolly told the lawyers to file the briefs by 5 p.m. Friday.
The order gives no indication when, or if, the three-judge panel will formally order its redistricting plan into effect.
The Justice Department's request came Thursday - 15 days before a March 1 candidates' filing deadline, increasing chances that a competing redistricting plan drawn by three federal judges will be used in this year's elections. Once Moore answers the latest questions, the department will have another 60 days to examine the state court plan.
A band of House Democrats yesterday accused the Justice Department of politicizing the Voting Rights Act, using it to undermine black voting strength in Mississippi and to boost the chances that Rep. Charles W. "Chip" Pickering Jr. (R) will defeat Rep. Ronnie Shows (D) in the November election.
"This manipulation of the Voting Rights Act to disenfranchise minority voters raises questions about your administration's commitment to civil rights in general and whether your Justice Department can carry out a fair review of minority voting rights in redistricting plans across the country," eight Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee wrote in a letter to President Bush.
Justice Department spokesman Dan Nelson denied the charges, saying, "The department's review of this matter will be conducted in a principled fashion and in a manner consistent with the department's treatment of all redistricting plans submitted for review," he said.
The Democrats contend that the Justice Department has waited until the last minute to raise questions about a pro-Democratic, pro-minority redistricting plan in order to further delay by 60 days the department's "preclearance," which is required in southern states before changes in election laws can take effect.
The consequence of the delay, the Democrats wrote, is that a separate plan backed by "a panel of three Republican-appointed federal judges" that weakens black voting strength and favors Pickering will become the law for the 2002 election. Boundaries for the state's congressional districts must be set by March 1. District lines drawn by federal judges do not require preclearance.
The state and federal court plans put two incumbents, Pickering and Shows, in the same Jackson-based district. In the state court plan, the district has a 37.5 percent black voting age population. In the federal court plan, the district has a 30 percent black voting age population and adds a number of strongly Republican precincts from white suburbs to the east of Jackson in Rankin County.
"The bottom line is that it appears the department is going out of its way to create novel and unique legal arguments which merely serve to delay the pre-clearance procedure unnecessarily and facilitate adoption of a discriminatory redistricting plan. This turns the Voting Rights Act on its head," wrote the Democrats led by Rep. John Conyers Jr. (Mich).
In southern congressional elections, the percentage of black voters can be crucial to the outcome, especially in a state like Mississippi, where whites have become strongly Republican and blacks remain a reliable Democratic constituency.
Pickering's campaign manager, Henry Barbour, said questions raised by the Justice Department are "pretty serious" and state Attorney General Mike Moore will need a substantial period of time to answer then. "The hurdle is high for anybody to handle the kind of questions Justice is asking," he said. But he also noted that the delay increases the likelihood that the pro-Pickering federal court plan will be used in the 2002 elections.
Officials in Moore's office said they will try to get answers to Justice as soon as this weekend.
Shows issued a statement charging that the Justice Department "stalls again" and saying that "preclearance should not be used as a political tool."
The U.S. Justice Department on Thursday asked for more information about a Mississippi congressional redistricting plan drawn by a state court judge.
The request came 15 days before a March 1 candidates' filing deadline, increasing chances that a redistricting plan drawn by three federal judges will be used in this year's elections.
"We are going to prepare all the information that the Justice Department has requested and get it to them as soon as possible," Attorney General Mike Moore said late Thursday.
Mississippi is losing one of its five congressional seats because it grew more slowly than many other states in the 1990s.
Competing plans drawn by state and federal judges both put the state's two junior congressmenóRepublican Chip Pickering and Democrat Ronnie ShowsóInto a new, combined district.
The state court plan is believed to favor Democrats while the federal court plan is believed to favor Republicans.
The Justice Department since late December has been examining the state court plan to ensure it's fair to minorities.
Once the department receives the new information it has requested, it will have another 60 days to consider the state court plan.
The three federal judges have said their plan will be used if the Justice Department did not give "timely" approval to the state court plan.
The federal judges' plan does not need to be cleared by the Justice Department.
State lawmakers met in special session last year but could not agree on how to combine Pickering's and Shows' districts.
Redistricting bounced into the courts after Democratic activists filed a lawsuit in Hinds County Chancery Court and Republican activists filed a separate lawsuit in federal court.
Chancellor Patricia Wise on Dec. 21 accepted a redistricting plan proposed by Democrats. It has a new central district with a 37.5 percent black voting age population.
Like all state court judges, Wise runs as an independent. She represents a largely Democratic district.
The federal plan was drawn by three Republican appointees to the bench _ 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge E. Grady Jolly of Jackson and U.S. District Judges David Bramlette of Natchez and Henry T. Wingate of Jackson.
Their plan sets a 30.4 percent black voting age population in the new Shows-Pickering combination district.
Mississippi's population is about 36 percent black.
Voting patterns show a high black voting age population generally favors Democrats and a low one generally favors Republicans.
Mississippi Muddle, Cont. The widely anticipated Mississippi matchup between Reps. Chip Pickering (R)and Ronnie Shows (D) edged closer to reality last week when a federal court drew a map that would throw them into a new, GOP-leaning district.
However, the three judges on the federal panel said they would only enforce their map if the Justice Department does not approve a state court plan, which favors Shows, in a "timely manner." The federal panel's plan does not require "pre-clearance "from the Justice Department. The judges did not clearly define "timely manner," but the state's filing deadline is currently set for March 1. State Attorney General Michael Moore (D), who submitted the map Dec. 26, had requested that Justice issue its ruling by Jan. 31.
Both parties are closely watching the latest map-making maneuvers in Mississippi, which is losing one seat under reapportionment. Under the federal court plan, 30 percent of the new Shows-Pickering district would be black. By the state court plan, blacks account for 37 percent of voters.
Meanwhile, members of the Congressional Black Caucus are charging that the Republican-controlled Justice Department is intentionally delaying its pre-clearance decision to help create a district that favors Pickering. In a Feb. 1 letter to U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D), who is black, suggested that the GOP is pressing the agency to delay approval so the plan drawn up by three federal judges, all appointed by Republican presidents, could take effect.
"This is an abuse of the Voting Rights Act, a law intended to protect the rights of minority voters, not political parties," Thompson wrote. "The Department should approve the Mississippi Congressional map at once."
A three-judge federal panel has swept aside maps submitted by Democrats and Republicans and adopted its own plan for reducing Mississippi's five congressional districts to four.
However, the federal judges ó E. Grady Jolly of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals and David C. Bramlette and Henry T. Wingate, both of the U.S. District Court ó didn't close the door on a state Chancery Court plan pending before the U.S. Justice Department.
In their order Monday, the judges said the federal map will go into effect "absent the timely preclearance of the redistricting plan adopted by the state Chancery Court."
By law, the Justice Department has 60 days to review the redistricting plan Hinds County Chancery Judge Patricia Wise adopted Dec. 21. Justice Department officials say a decision should be made on that map by Feb. 25, or they could request additional information by then. The Justice Department did not respond to the state's request for a review by Jan. 31.
The federal court stepped in to have a map in place so congressional candidates could qualify as scheduled March 1. The panel wasn't confident the state court map would be approved in time to maintain that deadline. The federal judges' plan does not need Justice Department approval.
"The federal court has left the door open, but it's not clear how long it's going to be," said Rob McDuff of Jackson, attorney for Democratic defendants. He added that if it appears the federal court won't wait until the end of the month to put its plan in effect, he would file an emergency appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Mississippi is losing a congressional seat because its population grew more slowly than that of other states in the 1990s. The courts got involved after state lawmakers failed to agree on a map.
A key issue in Mississippi's congressional remapping fight has been how to combine the districts represented by Mississippi's freshmen congressmen, 3rd District U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering, a Republican, and 4th District U.S. Rep. Ronnie Shows, a Democrat.
The federal map is perceived to favor Pickering; and the state court map is perceived to favor Shows.
The panel used many of the arguments made by lawyers on behalf of Republican plaintiffs, who turned to the federal court after Democrats filed a lawsuit that led to Wise's decision. It cited equally populated districts and compliance with the Voting Rights Act as primary factors in its decision. Other considerations included historical and regional interests, compactness and having military bases and universities in separate districts.
The federal map resembles the plan adopted by the Senate in a special session in November in that it maintains compactness and regionalism as much as possible. House members rejected that plan.
The federal panel said it wanted to include as much of the areas represented by Pickering and Shows as possible in a new combined district. The new district has a 30.4 percent black voting age population and contains all or part of 14 counties from each of the existing 3rd and 4th districts.
In her decision, Wise said she considered legislative intent concerning redistricting, especially the House's desire to create a "fair fight" district between Pickering and Shows. Her map creates a district consisting of almost equal portions of the general population of the current 3rd and 4th districts and has a 37 percent black voting age population.
Shows' Chief of Staff Glenn Rushing said the federal plan is "a Republican-leaning district. The majority of Congressman Pickering's district is still in tact when compared to Shows'."
Rushing noted that one-fourth of Hinds County is in the current 4th District. Under the federal map, a small area of Hinds County on the Hinds-Rankin-Madison line falls in the combined district. Also taken out of the 4th District are Copiah County and half of Marion County, he said.
"You're taking away a big chunk of the district," Rushing said.
But Pickering's campaign manager, Henry Barbour, said the federal plan "puts the people first and not the politicians."
"It's clear the federal court came out of the map-drawing using neutral criteria," he said. "We've been saying for eight months, from Chip's perspective, it shouldn't be about Chip and Ronnie. It should be about what's in the best interest for the state."
The federal map also doesn't allow the 1st District to dip down into central Mississippi as the state court plan does. First District U.S. Rep. Roger Wicker, a Republican, said the federal judges preserved regional interests.
"The result is a map which is compact, keeps distinct regions in tact, and splits very few counties. The plan is good for north Mississippi because it preserves historical and regional interests far better than the version drawn in Chancery Court," he said.
House Speaker Tim Ford said he sees no movement in the Legislature to address congressional redistricting, even with the possibility of the federal court plan going into effect.
House Apportionment and Elections Committee Chairman Tommy Reynolds, D-Charleston, said he hasn't ruled out the possibility of his committee considering a bill that would change the qualifying deadline from March to June and the primary from June to August. House Bill 801 is among those falling under today's deadline for committees to report general bills and constitutional amendments.
Mississippi is facing a five-week freefall into the congressional qualifying deadline with no approved redistricting map and a near certainty that, whatever three federal judges or the Justice Department decides, further legal fights will come.
With one map backed by the Democrats already approved in state court and awaiting Justice Department approval, Republicans this week took their case to federal court. A federal panel of 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge E. Grady Jolly and U.S. District Judges David C. Bramlette and Henry T. Wingate concluded a two-day hearing Tuesday.
A redistricting expert called by the Democrats told the panel that GOP-backed redistricting plans fragment Democratic voters.
After the hearing, attorney Robert McDuff, representing Democrat voters, said he hopes the federal panel will respect a Hinds County chancery judge's Dec. 21 decision adopting a redistricting plan favored by Democrats.
"If the federal court sets aside the state court ruling and starts from scratch, we will look at an appeal to the United States Supreme Court," McDuff said.
The court gave no indication when it will rule.
Skip Jernigan, an attorney for Republican voters, said he hopes the federal panel will adopt a new redistricting plan that will be neutral. "Our perspective is that our case went very well," Jernigan said.
Similar to McDuff, Jernigan said, if the federal panel approves a plan Republicans don't like, they have the option of appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The federal judges took charge of the case to try to allow the state to meet a March 1 qualifying deadline for candidates.
It could take up to 60 days for the Justice Department to review the map approved by Wise, although state Attorney General Mike Moore has asked the department to act by Thursday. A plan crafted by the federal panel would not require Justice Department approval.
Mississippi must redraw its congressional voting boundaries because the state is shrinking from five to four districts as the result of lagging population growth.
The outcome of redistricting is expected to lead to a showdown between U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering, a Republican who represents the 3rd District, and U.S. Rep. Ronnie Shows, a Democrat who represents the 4th District. All the proposed redistricting plans combine portions of those two districts in a new district.
The federal panel told attorneys for both sides they didn't have to file briefs, but, if they choose to do so, they have until Thursday.
The issue landed in the courts after state lawmakers failed to reach a compromise on how to shape the state's congressional voting map.
Republicans concluded their case in federal court with one last witness Tuesday. Verne Kennedy, head of a Florida-based research firm, testified that it is difficult to read intent but said it appeared the Democratic-backed plan was drawn to weaken the Republican vote.
In addition to Cooper, Democrats called two witnesses, Assistant Secretary of State Leslie Scott and former longtime Hinds County Election Commissioner Ruth Shirley.
Scott and Shirley were called to talk about election procedures. They said whichever plan is used, the simplest is best, with fewer precincts and counties split.
A congressional redistricting plan for Mississippi adopted last month by a Hinds County chancery judge is gerrymandered, a Texas redistricting expert told a three-judge federal panel in Jackson on Monday.
"It's the shape of a dog tail, and the tail is wagging the dog," said John Alford, a Rice University political science professor. "I consider it partisan gerrymandering."
Alford was one of six witnesses called by Republicans before the federal panel of U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge E. Grady Jolly, U.S. District Judge David C. Bramlette and U.S. District Judge Henry T. Wingate.
The federal judges claimed jurisdiction to redraw the state's congressional districts amid worries that legal challenges to the map approved by Chancery Judge Patricia Wise might not be resolved by the March 1 deadline for candidates to qualify for congressional elections.
The issue landed in the courts after state lawmakers failed to reach a compromise on how to shape the state's congressional voting map.
The map must be redrawn because the state is shrinking from five to four districts as the result of lagging population growth.
Wise adopted a plan Dec. 21 favored by Democrats.
That plan is pending U.S. Department of Justice approval, which could take up to 60 days, although state Attorney General Mike Moore has asked the department to act by Thursday.
A plan crafted by the federal panel would not require Justice Department approval.
On Monday, Republicans concluded their case.
Today, Robert McDuff of Jackson, the Democrats' attorney, begins his case. He is expected to conclude calling witnesses today.
The main battle has been over how to combine the 3rd and 4th districts, setting up a showdown between U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering, a Republican who represents the 3rd, and U.S. Rep. Ronnie Shows, a Democrat who represents the 4th.
On Monday, McDuff defended the plan Wise approved. He said it creates a combined district that would have given Republican George W. Bush 59 percent of the vote over Democrat Al Gore's 41 percent in the presidential election.
Democratic activists filed the suit Wise heard. Republicans filed suit in federal court where they hoped to get a more acceptable plan from judges, many of whom are Republican appointees.
Wise approved a modification of the so-called Branch plan, which got its name from Bea Branch, one of two chief Democratic plaintiffs.
Former state Sen. Henry Kirksey, a longtime Democrat, was the first witness for Republicans on Monday. He created a GOP-backed redistricting plan that would keep areas with common interests together and keep the districts compact.
"My concern wasn't preserving anyone's district for re-election," Kirksey said. "I wasn't looking at districts. I was looking at what was best for improving our state, so that it's not always on the bottom."
Kirksey said his first thought after seeing the Branch plan was, "It's a bad deal."
Republicans have submitted Kirksey's plan, their own modification of Kirksey's plan and other plans to the panel.
Alford, who participated in redistricting in Texas, where the state is gaining two congressional seats, said Kirksey's original plan or the modification is better than the Branch plan.
In addition to Democratic- and and Republican-backed plans, the court also is looking at plans supported by some mayors and north Mississippi officials, a plan adopted by the House and a plan adopted by the Senate.
Special Assistant State Attorney General Hunt T. Cole, who sat through the opening day of the trial Monday, said he doesn't know what will happen if the Justice Department approves the plan adopted by Wise and the federal panel adopts a plan, too.
The three-judge panel asked several questions during the trial, including whether it would make sense to put economically depressed counties mainly in one district or to mix them with counties in rapidly growing districts, such as north Mississippi or the Gulf Coast.
The legal arena for Mississippi's congressional redistricting dispute switches to the federal court today when a scheduled two-day hearing opens in Jackson.
Three federal judges have said they're moving forward on the case because they don't know whether new congressional lines approved by a Hinds County chancellor in December can win approval from the U.S. Justice Department.
The trial begins at 9:30 a.m. in U.S. District Court.
With a March 1 candidates' qualifying deadline, the judges said they would undertake the compacting of five districts into four. The change is required because Mississippi's population growth in the 1990s trailed that of many other states.
The Legislature met in special session in November but deadlocked on how to combine areas now represented by Republican Chip Pickering and Democrat Ronnie Shows, the state's two junior congressmen.
Pickering's district is in east central Mississippi and Shows' stretches from Jackson to the southwest corner. The plan approved by the chancery court created a new central district by combining roughly equal portions of Pickering's and Shows' districts.
A map the Republicans offered in chancery court had a new central district made up mostly of Pickering's constituents. It split Shows' territory among central, Delta and Gulf Coast districts.
Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge E. Grady Jolly, Jackson, and U.S. District Judges David Bramlette, Natchez, and Henry T. Wingate, Jackson, will preside.
Rob McDuff of Jackson, an attorney who represented Democrats in chancery court, will do so again. McDuff said Democrats will argue that if at any time the Justice Department approves the state court plan, the debate over new congressional district lines is over. "It will become the plan not only for this election but for all future elections unless the Legislature adopts something else," he said.
Mike Wallace of Jackson, an attorney representing Republicans, said the GOP would be happy with its own plan or any plan the three-judge panel itself would draw as long as it is not the one approved in chancery court.
Shows vs. Pickering, Cont.
The widely anticipated battle between Mississippi Reps. Chip Pickering (R) and Ronnie Shows (D) will likely take place in a district drawn by three federal judges, who last week set a Jan. 28 date to begin hearing testimony to decide how to reshape the state's House map.
The trial is expected to last two days. The federal judges said they want to ensure that a map is in place in time for the March 1 filing deadline. Their plan would not require Justice Department approval.
Meanwhile, the judges have urged state lawmakers to reopen stalled redistricting talks. A plan approved by those lawmakers would require Justice Department clearance.
Three federal judges on Wednesday set a Jan. 28 date to begin hearing testimony to determine how to reshape the state's congressional districts.
The judges said the trial should last two days.
"We intend to have every party have their say in how the state should be redistricted and why," said 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge E. Grady Jolly.
In a court order issued Tuesday, the federal judges, who also include U.S. District Judges Henry T. Wingate and David C. Bramlette, asserted their jurisdiction, saying they would proceed with redistricting, although a state judge has already approved a map.
Hinds County Chancery Judge Patricia Wise adopted a plan in December after a five-day trial. That plan is pending U.S. Department of Justice approval, which could take up to 60 days, though state Attorney General Mike Moore has asked the department to act by Jan. 31.
The federal judges said they want to ensure that a map is in place in time for the March 1 deadline for candidates to qualify for the U.S. House of Representatives. Their plan would not require Justice Department approval.
The state is losing one of its five congressional seats because the 2000 Census showed population in Mississippi grew slower than in other states.
The federal judges' order came as the result of a lawsuit filed by Republican activists. Democratic activists filed the suit Wise heard.
Legislators could not agree on a plan in a special session in November.
The federal judges said in the order they wanted legislators to still work to create a redistricting plan.
Legislators have stalled over how a district created from fusing the current 3rd and 4th districts would be formed. The districts are now represented by Chip Pickering, a Republican, and Ronnie Shows, a Democrat.
Sen. John Horhn, D-Jackson, said he thinks legislators are still too divided on the issue to come up with a plan. He favors the plan Wise approved.
"I hope that the Justice Department would expedite their clearance of Judge Wise's plan," he said. "I believe that the court precedent would favor the fact that this is a state matter and, if that is the case, it is rightly in Judge Wise's court."
But Rep. John Reeves, R-Jackson, said he is not surprised the federal judges are moving forward.
"Most people that I have spoken to always expected the federal court would eventually trump any state court proceeding," he said. "Most people that I am aware of feel more comfortable with appointed judges who have nothing to win or lose politically deciding the case."
Rob McDuff, an attorney for plaintiffs in the Hinds County Chancery Court case who are also involved in the federal case, said he believes the plan Wise approved could still be viable.
"In our view, it is the plan that will have to be used in the election," McDuff said. "The federal court is looking at what the plan should be if the state court plan is not precleared."
A federal court on Tuesday took control, at least temporarily, of Mississippi's troubled congressional redistricting process, expressing doubts about the fate of a controversial plan drawn by a state judge.
A three-judge federal panel will meet today with lawyers and set a schedule for a second round of court hearings and quite possibly another trial to decide how to draw new congressional district boundaries.
The plan approved by the state judge is still pending before the U.S. Department of Justice, and it was not clear whether the federal court would halt its proceedings if the Justice Department approves the state judge's plan. But Tuesday's ruling was viewed as a blow to Democratic activists who drew the plan ultimately adopted by the state judge and which links DeSoto County, Northeast Mississippi and Jackson's suburbs in a single district.
"We think it is premature and unnecessary for the federal court to reach out and talk about drawing its own plan," said Robert McDuff, an attorney for Democratic activists here who pushed for state-court jurisdiction in the case. "However, if the state-court plan is pre-cleared (by the U.S. Department of Justice) in the near future, which we think it will be, then that will be the plan to be used in the election . . . in our view."
But Grant Fox, an attorney for Republican activists who favored federal takeover of the case, cheered the ruling.
"I am pleased that the rule of law is being upheld and that the proper court, the United States District Court, has taken jurisdiction over this matter," said Fox. "I am confident that the federal court will ensure that all parties are treated impartially and that due process is afforded to all litigants."
Mississippi is losing one of its five seats in Congress, forcing Republicans and Democrats into a pitched political battle over the makeup of a new central Mississippi district. That district is likely to pit incumbent U.S. Reps. Chip Pickering, a Republican, against Ronnie Shows, a Democrat.
In November, the Mississippi Legislature failed to reach a consensus over how to resolve that dispute and failed to draw new districts. In response, Hinds County Chancellor Patricia Wise held a trial and ultimately adopted district boundaries proposed by Democratic activists.
Among its more controversial provisions, Wise's plan creates a central Mississippi district stretching from Natchez to Columbus in which, she said, either a Democrat or a Republican could win.
But to achieve that political balance, conservative, Republican-leaning voters from Jackson's suburbs were drawn into a congressional district that otherwise is made up of DeSoto County and Northeast Mississippi.
Under the Voting Rights Act, changes in Mississippi's election laws must be approved by the Justice Department. And Wise's plan is now pending before officials in the Voting Rights Division of the Justice Department.
In their ruling on Tuesday, U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Grady Jolly and U.S. Dist. Judges Henry T. Wingate and David C. Bramlette seemed to agree with Republican attorneys who argued that too many issues are before the Department of Justice for it to rule before the state's March 1 deadline for candidates to file for office.
Besides simply reviewing the new district boundaries to protect black voting strength, the federal judges said, the very act of a state court drawing a plan might invite review.
So, the judges wrote, "We will begin to draft a plan . . . in order to assure that the congressional election schedule as provided under the laws of the state Mississippi is timely implemented . . ."
In a footnote in the 20-page ruling, the judges said specifically that they had not decided what to do if the Justice Department approves the plan adopted by Wise. "If the state court plan is cleared, (the federal court) will have to look at the situation anew," said McDuff.
The federal judges, though, noted that the very question of whether a state court has jurisdiction under the United States Constitution remains before them as well. And at another point they discussed the "wide-ranging implications" of "giving a single chancery judge the power to reapportion the entire state's congressional delegation."
"I'm hopeful this is a step in the right direction of getting a plan that puts the state's interest first and that doesn't concern itself with Chip Pickering or Ronnie Shows or any incumbent," said Henry Barbour, Pickering's campaign manager who was responding for GOP officials on Tuesday. "That's all we're looking for."
The road of redrawing congressional lines, the path to reshaping Mississippi legislative districts is expected to be much smoother, lawmakers predict.
"I think that this (legislative redistricting) is going to proceed in a timely fashion. I think the members are ready to work real hard," said House Apportionment and Elections Chairman Tommy Reynolds, D-Charleston.
But Reynolds said he hopes legislative redistricting isn't held hostage as lawmakers haggle over the state's budget and other issues, such as changing laws regarding civil lawsuits. "This is an issue that should be considered on its own merits," he said. The two-chamber debate that kept congressional redistricting in a political quagmire won't be a part of legislative redistricting. (A special legislative session in November ended when the House and Senate failed to agree on a consensus map that would reduce Mississippi's five congressional districts into four.)
Legislative redistricting is made easier because the House draws its own map and the Senate draws its map.Afterward, by custom and tradition, each chamber signs off on the other's map without offering changes.Lawmakers must approve their redistricting plans 15 days before the session ends. The last day of the session is April 7.
Legislative redistricting maps don't need the governor's approval. Final map approval is handled through a resolution. Once approved by lawmakers, the maps will be forwarded to the U.S. Department of Justice for review.Ten years ago, legislative redistricting ended up in federal court to increase the number of black lawmakers. Lawmakers had to run two consecutive years because of the infighting.Rep. Ed Blackmon, D-Canton, who was heavily involved in legislative redistricting a decade ago, said there's no power struggle in the leadership this time around.Also, the fight to create electable black districts also will be absent from the upcoming process.
"There will be some problems in some of the areas that lost population. There would have to be some adjustments," Blackmon said.
With 2000 Census showing population shifts in the state, not all 122 House members will be happy with the final result, Reynolds said. Some districts will be expanded and some will be combined, meaning those lawmakers who seek re-election in 2003 may have to campaign among new voters.
DeSoto, Madison and Rankin counties experienced explosive growth in the 1990s, as well as Hancock County on the Gulf Coast.
Those are areas that could gain districts in the House.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Delta counties, such as Washington and Humphreys, lost population and districts would be significantly changed and possibly merged with others.
House Speaker Tim Ford said he's aware of five House members who have said they won't seek another term. He did not identify them.
Ford said legislators will begin huddling early in the session to see if agreements can be reached on boundaries. "What I think will happen is that they'll come up with something and test it and show it to some members and see if they got support for it, and if not, redo it," he said.
Senate Election Committee Chairman Hob Bryan could not be reached.When asked whether she thought legislative redistricting would go more smoothly than congressional redistricting, Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck responded "I hope so. Certainly, it's going to be challenging."
Steve Rozman, a Tougaloo College political science professor, said lawmakers must keep in mind the population shifts so that the "one man, one vote" principle is followed and everyone is represented fairly.
"They've got to respond to that or otherwise they get in trouble with the courts," he said.
Jackson County Supervisor Robert Norvel, one of eight plaintiffs in a Hinds County Chancery Court lawsuit involving congressional redistricting, said he will be watching the legislative redistricting action closely.
"We kind of hope they would go ahead and do their jobs as they should have done in congressional redistricting," he said.
Republicans assailed the new state House redistricting plan drafted by the majority Democratic Caucus, but failed to present a GOP alternative Wednesday in a legislative committee reviewing the proposals.
The Democratic plan to redraw the 99 House district boundaries pairs 14 incumbent Republican House members into seven districts, which could effectively eliminate seven of them in this year's elections.
One of the 14, Rep. Larry Scroggs (R-Germantown), has announced his candidacy for Shelby County mayor and so would not be affected by the plan's move of his residence into the same district with Rep. Curry Todd (R-Collierville).
But two other Shelby County Republicans, Reps. Tre Hargett and W.C. 'Bubba' Pleasant, could face a Republican primary battle if the Democratic plan becomes law and both run for re-election in the same district.
The Democratic Caucus proposal was made public Monday and recommended for approval in the House Elections subcommittee on Wednesday. It is scheduled for more committee review and a House floor vote next week.
Redistricting plans for the state Senate and for Tennessee's nine congressional districts have not been finished.
In Wednesday's subcommittee hearing, Rep. Mark Goins (R-LaFollette) - who was paired into the same district with Republican William Baird of Jacksboro - blasted Democrats for drafting their proposal behind closed doors.
"This is just partisan politics at its worst. It's dirty politics," Goins said. "The Republicans who opposed a state income tax were targeted. Without the voters having a say, you're getting rid of seven votes against an income tax."
Democratic leaders denied the income tax charge, defended the integrity of their redistricting proposal and said that the House Republican Caucus has yet to release its own plan.
House Republican Minority Leader Steve McDaniel of Parker's Crossroads told the committee the GOP proposal isn't ready.
"The process for this (redistricting) bill was like any other bill," Rep. Randy Rinks of Savannah, the House Democratic Caucus chairman and chairman of the committee that drafted the Democratic plan, told Goins. "You prepare the bill and once the bill is introduced, that's where the public process and public meetings begin.
"I didn't get invited to any meeting on the (Republican redistricting) bill that Rep. McDaniel has."
After the meeting, Rinks said that the positions of legislators on an income tax had nothing to do with how their district boundaries were drawn.
"That never crossed my mind. If that was the case, we'd have put some Democrats in there, too," he said.
Democrats control the House with a 57-42 majority. Memphis Republican and lawyer John Ryder said Monday that a GOP court challenge of the plan is likely.
The House's top Democrat, Speaker Jimmy Naifeh of Covington, also defended the process. He said that in decades past, the majority party hasn't unveiled the redistricting plan until it gets to the House floor.
"This is the first time we've ever put a redistricting plan out this early. It's been open. To have it in the subcommittee even before we convene the legislature is unprecedented," Naifeh said.
Contact Nashville Bureau chief Richard Locker at (615)