Mississippi Judges to Draw Congressional Redistricting Map

Mississippi federal judges said they will draw up a new map of congressional districts in the state, according to a filing in federal court.

A panel of three U.S. judges in Jackson, Mississippi, gave the parties in a lawsuit over the redistricting until Dec. 12 to object to the court’s authority to devise a map, according to a docket entry today.

“If the state legislature doesn’t fulfill its obligation to redistrict, then the judges are doing what they’re charged with doing,” Arthur Jernigan, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said in a phone interview. “I appreciate that.”

The judges also gave the parties until Dec. 12 to comment on a redistricting proposal in a new lawsuit filed yesterday in federal court in Jackson. That suit was brought by black voters against state officials including Republican Governor Haley Barbour.

Because the legislature has failed to set out new congressional districts, “African-American voters in the state of Mississippi have been denied equal opportunity to participate in the political process and to elect representatives of their choice,” according to the complaint filed yesterday.

A spokeswoman for Barbour didn’t immediately return a call for comment on the redistricting.

New Deadline

The deadline for people to qualify as candidates for U.S. Congress in Mississippi is Jan. 13. The primary nomination election will be held in March.

The federal court adopted a congressional redistricting plan in 2002. The 2010 U.S. Census uncovered shifts in population that require a new map, according to the lawsuits.

Today’s order applies to a 2001 case that closed in 2002 with the court’s redistricting order. Barbour and the state’s Democratic and Republican parties asked to reopen the case to settle the latest redistricting issue. The plaintiffs include John Robert Smith, the former mayor of Meridian, Mississippi, and two other former mayors.

“Everybody recognizes that there has to be a new plan,” Robert McDuff, a lawyer representing some individual Democratic voters in Mississippi in the 2001 case, said in a phone interview. He said the plan put forward in the new lawsuit “certainly looks fine to me.”

Defendants in the case include the Mississippi Republican Party Executive Committee and the Mississippi Democratic Party Executive Committee. Lawyers for the two groups didn’t immediately return messages for comment.

The Mississippi branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People sued the state this year, saying the original redistricting maps would “dilute black voting strength.”

The old federal case is Smith v. Clark, 01-0855, and the new case is Buck v. Barbour, 11-0717, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Mississippi (Jackson).