US high court won't touch Miss. redistricting

Delta Democrat Times (Greenville, MS) - Monday, October 31, 2011

The U.S. Supreme Court won't get involved in a fight over legislative redistricting in Mississippi. 

The court on Monday affirmed a lower court ruling allowing state lawmakers to run in their current districts this year. The justices rejected an appeal from the Mississippi NAACP. 

Mississippi's statewide and legislative elections are Nov. 8. 

"This is what we had expected on this particular case," said state Sen. Terry Burton, R-Newton, the Elections Committee chairman. "So there's no surprise here. We've all been running on the assumption we would proceed with the election." 

The Mississippi Legislature did not adopt a redistricting plan this year. The 122 Mississippi House districts and 52 Senate districts are updated after every census to reflect population changes and to uphold the constitutional principle of one person, one vote. 

When redistricting failed, the state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People sued. But a three-judge federal panel said the state either had to immediately redraw the lines or let lawmakers run in their current districts in 2011. 

A federal panel said in May that the state still has another year to complete remapping district lines, so no temporary action was warranted. 

The NAACP said elections under the current districts will violate the one-person, one-vote principle. 

Mississippi NAACP president Derrick Johnson did not immediately return a call seeking comment. 

Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, a Republican, said Monday that the decision reaffirms the Legislature's right to redistrict itself. 

"The decision validates next Tuesday's legislative election. It means the Mississippi Constitution controls the election of our representatives," Hosemann said. 

"The Supreme Court has affirmed what I have long contended - we should follow the state constitution and protect our state's right to redistrict our legislature without federal intervention," Hosemann said. "The constitution had a very good day. I am very pleased with the result." 

Burton said lawmakers in January will return to the task of trying to draw new lines. He said question remains about whether lawmakers will have to run again in 2012. 

Hosemann said if lawmakers redraw districts that meet all the constitutional mandates, he can see "a clear path that there may not be another election" until the regularly scheduled one in 2015. 

"If they don't perform that duty, we certainly could be back in federal court. The best part of this is that we get to do it ourselves and that's the way it should be," Hosemann said. 

The federal panel said it would consider special elections if one or both parties involved in the lawsuit request them. 

"We don't know what the final outcome of that might be ... will there be an additional election held next year at taxpayers' expense," Burton said. 

Burton said it would have been better if lawmakers had agreed on new district lines in time for the 2011 elections. 

"We failed in that regard. None of us knows what will take place but many of us are concerned they are going to be new elections," he said. 

Redistricting efforts stalled during the 2011 session when the Republican-controlled Senate rejected the map written in the Democratic-controlled House. Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant said the House map was unfair to Republicans. Democrats in both chambers accused Bryant of trying to impede the redistricting process.