By NEMS Daily Journal
The Legislature adjourned Thursday, barring a special session, until 2012, the last action a Senate leadership refusal to vote on redistricting, throwing that issue more deeply into the hands of the federal judiciary.
The central issue is failure to adopt a redistricting plan as required under the Mississippi and U.S. constitutions after a decennial census is partisan politics.
Democrats say it is the partisanship of Senate Republicans, led by Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant and his lieutenants, who seek to control the outcome of the next House speaker’s election in 2012 – and rev up Bryant’s gubernatorial campaign this year.
The Republicans say it is partisanship in the House’s redrawing of the legislative maps, especially the House map, which the GOP believes is malapportioned to ensure election of Democrats in heavily African-American districts.
Gov. Barbour, who rules the Senate with its Republican majority, has been the power behind the scenes calling the shots with his well-honed political precision.
The likely outcome of this train wreck is a court-drawn plan without the imprint of Mississippi’s Legislature, a clear failure of will to keep the mandate of office.
There’s no guarantee the legislative elections will be held in 2011, which would mean state voters returning to the polls in 2012 to elect legislators in districts determined in a courtroom rather than in the halls of the Capitol by the people’s legislators.
The expectation of agreement was strong when the Senate and House members working in the respective elections committees agreed on a remap. Each chamber passed its own version of redistricting, and the House passed both versions, as required.
The Senate balked, breaking precedent of multiple political generations that each chamber approves the other’s redrawn lines.
More importantly, the maps as drawn by the committees appeared to have a really strong chance of winning pre-clearance from the U.S. Department of Justice, which is required under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The act provides safeguards against racial discrimination in elections in areas where past discrimination has been proven – states like Mississippi where blacks were not afforded full citizenship in practice until the civil rights acts of the 1960s.
The irony of intentionally throwing redistricting to a federal court is in Mississippi’s historic and vitriolic fight against federal court orders in the civil rights and desegregation era. Our state’s position was wrong, and it lost.
As then, our state will now be ordered to do what a court decides, not what our elected officials should have done themselves.