The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has consolidated all the lawsuits and has tentatively scheduled oral arguments in New Orleans for the first week of June.
In March of 2011, local branches of the NAACP filed lawsuits that sought to extend election qualifying deadlines in the counties until voting boundaries could be redrawn based on new, 2010 census information. Mississippi's census numbers were released in February of 2011 and local officials said they needed time to redraw districts and get the new boundaries approved by the federal government. Carroll Rhodes, an attorney representing the NAACP, said pushing all qualifying deadlines back until June 1 would have given county supervisors more time to redraw districts. Each county has five supervisor districts.
In separate lawsuits, the Hancock and Madison county boards of supervisors sued other government entities to extend the qualifying deadline for those counties' elections.
Mississippi lawmakers had already extended the 2011 qualifying deadlines for their own elections from March 1 to June 1. They were hoping to give themselves enough time redraw district lines and receive approval from the U.S. Justice Department, which checks to ensure that redistricting plans are fair to minorities.
But the House and Senate argued for several weeks before ending their 2011 session without adopting new maps. Last October, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed a lower court ruling that allowed state lawmakers to run in their old districts that year. The justices rejected an appeal from the Mississippi NAACP.
The county lawsuits involve the same issues. Rhodes, state Attorney General Jim Hood and lawyers in the county cases agreed to consolidate them. Hood joined in the lawsuit when plaintiffs asked the court to move the qualifying date for candidates set in state law from March 1 to June 1. He felt he needed to defend the state law.
The NAACP contends county supervisors ran in districts that were malapportioned, diluting the voting strength of minorities. It is unclear whether they would seek new elections or some other remedy if the court rules their way.
Hood and other lawyers argued that the counties could do nothing to get lines drawn and approved within the shortened time frame they had.
U.S. District Judge Louis Guirola Jr. in May of 2011, sided with the attorney general in a case involving eight counties.
"There is simply an insufficient amount of time for the county boards of supervisors to receive and evaluate the 2010 decennial census data, to redistrict each county in order to remedy any malapportionment, and to comply with state election statutes.
"Under the circumstances, and absent Justice Department preclearance of the submitted plans, the 2011 elections in the affected counties must be conducted as they are presently configured.
"Courts have generally accepted that some lag-time between release of census data and redistricting is both necessary and constitutionally acceptable, even when it results in elections based on malapportioned districts in the years that census data is released," Guirola said.
The counties were Hancock, Madison, Simpson, Amite, Wayne Claiborne, Adams, Copiah and Warren.
Guirola's ruling was cited by U.S. District Judge W. Allen Pepper last September when he dismissed lawsuits against Tunica and Tallahatchie counties.