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Mississippi Redistricting Hits the Federal Court

By Jeffrey Hess | Published 22 Apr 2011 02:30pm | comments

Mississippi's redistricting battle is now in the hands of the federal court. There will likely more court hearings before a panel of three federal judges makes a decision on how to proceed with redistricting. MPB's Jeffrey Hess reports that the options before the judges seem to be getting clearer.

The federal courtroom in downtown Jackson was packed to capacity with lawyers and Mississippi law makers eager to make their opening case before a three judge panel that could decide the future of redistricting in Mississippi.

Three main opinions emerged from the early hearing: implement maps approved by the Mississippi House, draw new lines, or do nothing and let the legislature try again next year.

Rob McDuff, the lawyer for the House Redistricting Committee, pushed the judges to implement the redistricting maps approved by the House for this fall's election.

"The easiest solution for this upcoming election, is for the Federal Court to adopt those plans and then let the legislature go back to the drawing board next year for the 2015 elections," McDuff said.

Andy Taggert, the lawyer for Senate Redistricting Chairman Terry Burton of Newton, asked the court to set a deadline to add pressure for the legislature to approve redistricting maps this year.

"I believe there is still time, if the court is so inclined, for the state of Mississippi to fully adopt both the House and Senate plans. But absent that, at least we know the Senate plan has been approved by both chambers," Taggert said.

Other attorneys opposed the House maps completely.

Mike Wallace, the lawyer for the Mississippi Republican Party, declined to comment following the hearing but in the court room he called on the judges to bring in an outside expert to draw completely new lines.

Wallace argued that the maps approved by the Mississippi House maps were too partisan and wouldn't pass constitutional muster.

An attorney for Secretary of State Delbert Hoseman asked the court to do nothing, arguing that constitutionally the state has until next year to finish redistricting.

Hoseman made that case for MPB the day before the hearing.

"This issue is not ripe and the Mississippi legislature ought to do the things it is empowered to do and be given the time to do that as opposed to the Federal Courts stepping into a state issue," Hoseman said.

The Mississippi legislature is required to redraw voting lines every ten years to adjust for shifts in population, but failed to finish the job in the regular session.

The judges did not make a decision and there will be more hearings, although those dates have not been announced.

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