By NEMS Daily Journal
The Mississippi Legislature as currently constituted is, technically speaking, unconstitutional. Legislative districts are supposed to be essentially equal in population, adhering to the U.S. Supreme Court’s one-person, one-vote mandate. When population shifts cause disparities, voters in districts with too many people are under-represented while those in districts with too few people have too much clout.
But because the Mississippi Legislature couldn’t agree on a redistricting plan after the 2010 census, action was delayed and the 2011 elections were held under the old malapportioned districts. Senate and House members still represent districts drawn after the 2000 census, and in some cases those old boundaries now contain considerable population inequities.
The 2011 failure of legislative redistricting was owed to partisan divisions, the typical defining element of political map redrawing anywhere but only in recent years the dominant theme in Mississippi. Republicans controlled the Senate and Democrats the House last term, and the Senate refused to pass the House plan.
When Republicans took over both houses this year, the stalemate abated and Republicans approved a plan for both the Senate and the House favorable to them. But it still must get the approval of the U.S. Department of Justice or the federal court for the District of Columbia. Right now, Democrats are fighting that approval, primarily on the grounds that the plan dilutes the power of black voters, which is specifically prohibited under the federal Voting Rights Act.
It’s all about who gets and holds the power, of course, and everybody has his own idea of what’s fair and equitable. Rank-and-file incumbents for the most part care only if their district lines protect their re-election chances. Those considerations, party power and racial factors combine to produce some strange-looking districts and the combining of some counties and communities in otherwise irrational ways.
But rationality or fairness or equity rarely govern redistricting at any level. It’s all about raw power.
There appear to be several possible outcomes for the state’s current redistricting plan, some of which could produce a mess. One chamber’s plan being approved, for example, and the other rejected. Or elections ordered in the middle of the term.
A panel of federal judges could wind up drawing a new map themselves. Had lawmakers taken care of business in 2011, it wouldn’t have come to this.
If the Justice Department rejects part or all of Mississippi’s plan, lawmakers shouldn’t waste time and money appealing it. Redrawing and resubmitting the maps to respond to objections would be the more prudent course.