By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – Plans passed during the 2012 legislative session to redraw state House and Senate districts were approved Friday by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, who presides over the Senate, said he was pleased by the news.
“The plan drawn by our redistricting committee received overwhelming bipartisan support from the Senate because it was fair and representative of the entire state,” he said.
House Apportionment and Elections Chair Bill Denny, R-Jackson, who oversaw the drawing of the House plan, said he was going to the dry cleaners when he got word of the approval and “made a U-turn” to get home so he could notify people. He said he was confident the plans would be approved.
Still, many Democrats, especially black legislators, complained that the plans diluted black voting strength by “packing” minority voters in fewer districts to lessen their impact.
“I am saddened and disappointed,” said Rep. Kelvin Buck, D-Holly Springs. “I really can’t understand how the plans made it through the process with the feelings by so many that they diluted minority voting.”
Buck said in recent months the Justice Department has struck down other redistricting plans, such as the Texas congressional redistricting map, and believed that the federal officials would see many of the same problems in the Mississippi plan.
But President Barack Obama’s Justice Department apparently did not see those problems.
“The Department of Justice’s approval of the House redistricting map speaks to the fairness of the plan,” said House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton.
Redistricting must occur every 10 years to match population shifts found by the census. In 2011, no plan passed because of a partisan stalemate between the majority-Democratic House and the majority-Republican Senate, but the GOP captured both chambers in November and undertook a new redistricting effort.
In the House plan, the number of majority black districts increased by one to 42, while in the Senate the number went from 13 to 15.
The Senate plan also was criticized by officials in Marshall and Benton counties for separating the two counties traditionally in the same district. “It is a sad day for Marshall and Benton counties,” said Sen. Bill Stone, D-Ashland.
Both Stone and Buck predicted a court challenge, but Stone admitted they “will be in a weaker position with the Justice Department preclearing the plans.”
The three-judge federal panel that ordered elections last year under the malapportioned districts also could be asked to order new elections before the next scheduled election in 2015.