By Emily Wagster Pettus/The Associated Press
JACKSON — Mississippi lawmakers are gone from the Capitol, but arguments about legislative redistricting are continuing with a flurry of papers filed in federal court.
Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann is asking a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
The 122 state House districts and 52 Senate districts need to be redrawn every 10 years to account for changes in population. The 2010 Census showed significant growth during the previous decade in north Mississippi’s DeSoto County, just south of Memphis, Tenn. Parts of the economically struggling Delta lost population.
All 174 legislative seats are up for election this year.
The NAACP filed a lawsuit in March, seeking to block elections using the current legislative maps because some districts have far more residents than others. The group argues that the unbalanced populations among the districts violate the constitutional principle of one-person, one-vote.
Hosemann, a Republican, argued in papers filed April 1 that the state constitution gives lawmakers until 2012 to draw new districts. He said the NAACP’s lawsuit, therefore, should be dismissed.
“Secretary Hosemann does not dispute that the current legislative districts, drafted and implemented in 2002, are malapportioned based on 2010 Census data,” attorney Robert L. Gibbs wrote. “However, this fact alone does not permit this court nor a three-judge panel, to take away the responsibility of drawing legislative districts from the Mississippi Legislature, which is constitutionally mandated to draw lines.”
The NAACP responded Thursday that Hosemann’s arguments are wrong. It said the court can draw new districts after lawmakers try but fail to do so. Legislators argued about redistricting for several weeks but ended their three-month session Thursday without a resolution.
“If the Legislature fails or refuses to carry out its redistricting responsibility after being afforded a reasonable opportunity to do so, then the court is not prohibited from acting,” NAACP wrote in Thursday’s filing. “In fact, if the court is afforded enough time to fashion a remedy for the malapportioned districts after the Legislature has failed or refused to redistrict, then the court should do so.”
Legislative candidates face a June 1 qualifying deadline. Party primaries are Aug. 2, and the general election is Nov. 2.