January trial date set for redistricting

Federal judges set Jan. 28 trial date for redistricting

By EMILY WAGSTER

Associated Press Writer

JACKSON Republicans and Democrats are eyeing a shorter redistricting trial in federal court than they had in state court.

Three federal judges set a Jan. 28 start for a two-day trial on redrawing Mississippi’s congressional districts. They didn’t say when they would release a plan.

In Hinds County Chancery Court last month, Judge Patricia Wise heard a week of testimony before approving a map.

Wise’s plan has been sent to the U.S. Justice Department for approval, but federal judges are conducting their own trial because they think it might not be cleared before the March 1 congressional candidates’ filing deadline.

The Justice Department monitors Mississippi elections to ensure fairness to minorities.

On Wednesday, 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 said they might draw their own map if they’re not satisfied with plans presented by Republicans and Democrats.

“I think we intend to allow every party to have a full say of how they think this state should be redistricted and why,” Jolly said.

Mississippi is losing one of its five U.S. House seats because it grew more slowly than many other states in the 1990s.

State lawmakers 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 down to the southwest corner.

Redistricting bounced into the courts after Democratic activists filed a lawsuit in Hinds County Chancery Court in October. Republicans later filed suit in federal court.

The plan approved by Wise 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.

Rob McDuff of Jackson, an attorney who represented Democrats in chancery court and who will do so again in the federal trial, said he’ll offer the federal judges almost the same plan Wise has approved. He didn’t say how he would alter the map.

Mike Wallace of Jackson, an attorney representing Republicans in federal court, said the GOP will present a modified version of a map drawn by former state Sen. Henry Kirksey, D-Jackson. That’s the plan the Republicans presented in chancery court.

The federal judges have urged state lawmakers to reopen stalled redistricting talks. A plan approved by lawmakers would need Justice Department clearance.