Judge to hear his second redistricting case

JACKSON – U.S. District Judge Tom Lee of the Southern District of Mississippi will hear a state legislative redistricting case for the second time in his career.
Lee, who was part of a three-judge federal panel who oversaw the state Legislature’s redistricting effort in 1991, took over a lawsuit filed by the NAACP and others over the Legislature’s inability to agree to a redistricting plan this year.
Lee replaces Judge Carlton Reeves, who stepped down Monday night because of his membership in the NAACP.
In 1991, Lee was part of a three-judge panel that also consisted of 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Rhesa Barksdale and District Judge Charles Pickering.
That panel ordered the Legislature to run in 1991 under the existing districts and the following year under new districts.
The NAACP lawsuit claims it would violate the U.S. Constitution to run under the existing districts this year because they are substantially malapportioned. The lawsuit is asking a three-judge panel to draw new districts.
Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, who oversees state elections, has filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. Hosemann argues that the state Constitution gives the Legislature until the second year after the decennial census to redistrict. That would be 2012.
The federal court should not be involved until all of the remedies provided by the state Constitution are exhausted, Hosemann argued.
Lee will presumably rule on Hosemann’s motions and others. And if a motion to dismiss is not granted, a three-judge panel will presumably be named. Lee would be a member of the panel.
“Judge Lee has done this before,” said Rep. George Flaggs, D-Vicksburg, who was involved in the redistricting controversy in 1991. “In my observation, he was fair and thorough.”
Lee is an appointee of former President Ronald Reagan. Reeves recently was appointed to the bench by President Barack Obama.
Reeves is the second judge to recuse himself from the case. Dan Jordan stepped aside earlier because a family member is running for a House seat.

Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal