Judges favor plans passed by House, Senate

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – A three-judge federal panel says it is “inclined” to adopt the redistricting plans passed by each chamber of the state Legislature for elections later this year.
The judges released the order late Friday and set a May 10 date to hear arguments from those opposed to using the plan each chamber passed for itself during the recently concluded 2011 session.
State law requires that both houses approve the plan to redraw each chamber. Partisan bickering prevented an agreement from being reached during the session, throwing into court the issue of what the legislative districts would be for elections later this year.
In the order, the judges said “this proposed interim remedy appears to be necessary” because the current districts are unconstitutionally malapportioned and because of the need to resolve the issue quickly in the face of a June 1 qualifying deadline.
The Mississippi chapter of the NAACP, which filed the lawsuit, Attorney General Jim Hood and the House Apportionment and Elections Committee, which intervened in the case, had argued that the panel should adopt the plans passed by each chamber for elections this year.
Gov. Haley Barbour and the state Republican Party, which also intervened, argued that the court should appoint a consultant to draw a plan. During a hearing on the issue on April 22, Jackson attorney Michael Wallace, representing the Republican Party, said the plan passed by the House was unconstitutional because it overpopulated Republican districts.
He will presumably argue that during the May 10 hearing.
The Democratic leadership of the House said the plan is fair, pairing only one incumbent Republican with a Democrat while pairing two Democrats against each other. House Apportionment and Elections Chair Tommy Reynolds, D-Water Valley, said each district under the plan is no more than 5 percent above or below the ideal size, which is the generally accepted standard.
The issue ended up in court after the Republican-led Senate refused to pass the House plan. In past redistricting efforts, each chamber has rubber-stamped the plan passed by the other house. But Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, who presides over the Senate, said he would not pass a House plan that he deemed unfair.
The judges did not address the issue of whether they were “inclined” to pass the interim plan for only a one-year term or for a four-year term. In 1991, when legislative redistricting ended up in court, a similar three-judge panel ordered House and Senate members to run that year under the existing plan and the following year in newly drawn distircts.
The panel did say the House and Senate redistricting plans would be used only for the 2011 elections unless they were approved by the Legislature before the next round of elections.
And during the April hearing, all sides conceded it would be better not to run two years in a row because of the costs.

Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@journalinc.com.