By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – Legislative elections will proceed as scheduled this year under the current House and Senate districts that were drawn in 2002.
A three-judge federal panel ruled Monday that legislative elections will be held under the current districts, even though they are malapportioned based on the 2010 census.
Whether lawmakers will be elected for a full four-year term or whether they will have to run again next year will be decided later.
The judges essentially adopted Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann’s argument that the state Constitution sets up a procedure to redraw legislative districts to adhere to population shifts determined by the decennial census.
Under that constitutional provision, the Legislature could redraw the districts during the 2012 session. If the Legislature cannot reach agreement in 2012, the state Constitution calls for a special commission to be appointed to complete the task.
“The federal court has ruled in favor of protecting our state’s right to redistrict without federal intervention until the constitutional process has been exhausted,” Hosemann said. “From the beginning, it was important for me to protect the state Constitution, which protects us every day.”
The judges said they would retain jurisdiction of the case to see that constitutional redistricting roadmap is completed.
If it is and no party requests another round of elections in 2012, “this Court will have no further involvement or duty” in the case.
The case ended up in federal court after the Legislature could not agree on a plan during the 2011 session. The state chapter of the NAACP and others, including the state Republican Party and Gov. Haley Barbour, argued that it would be a violation of the U.S. Constitution to run under the current districts because they were grossly malapportioned.
Barbour and the state Republican Party wanted the judicial panel to appoint an expert to draw new districts. The judges had said in late April they were “inclined” to approve as an interim fix the redistricting plans passed by each chamber during the 2011 session.
Those plans did not carry the force of law because each house did not pass the plan from the other chamber.
The court’s enactment of the plan approved by each chamber was the remedy sought by the NAACP and some of the interveners in the case.
Derrick Johnson, president of the Mississippi NAACP, said attorneys were reviewing the ruling before deciding whether to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“We still take the position the current legislative plan is grossly malapportioned and in violation of the constitutional principle of one person, one vote. We’ll make a decision about the next step at a later date,” Johnson said.
But in Monday’s ruling, the judges noted that Rob McDuff, attorney for the Democratic-dominated House Elections Committee, which intervened in the case, said that while his client supported the enactment of the plans approved by each chamber, he would not object to elections this year under the current distircts.
The ruling noted that the remedy of legislators running in the old districts “seems to comport with everyone’s ‘second choice’” and “was the most respectful … to the proper placement of responsibility for reapportioment – the Legislature of the state of Mississippi.”
The judges did say that, under the unlikely event a new plan is approved by the Legislature in special session and put in place before the June 1 qualifying deadline, House and Senate members would run later this year under that plan.
In 1991, when redistricting ended up in court, a similar panel ordered House and Senate candidates to run that year under the old districts and the following year under new ones.
In Monday’s ruling, the judges held out the possibility that back-to-back elections would not occur this time.
Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or firstname.lastname@example.org.