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Miss. might use temp maps for ’11 legislative race

Three federal judges say they might order Mississippi to use House and Senate redistricting plans that were discussed but died during the recent legislative session — but the maps would be a temporary solution only for the 2011 elections.

“This proposed interim remedy appears to be necessary in the light of the acknowledgment of all parties that the existing state legislative districts are unconstitutionally malapportioned, and because of the exigent circumstances of this case, including the June 1, 2011 deadline for candidates to qualify to run for office in the Mississippi House of Representatives and the Mississippi Senate,” the judges wrote in an order filed Friday.

The judges are Grady Jolly of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and Tom Lee and Louis Guirola Jr. of the U.S. District Court for southern Mississippi. They set a May 10 hearing for attorneys to argue for or against the proposed temporary solution.

They said the maps would be used only if legislators fail to agree on redistricting plans and get them approved by the U.S. Justice Department before June 1. Approval on such a tight deadline appears unlikely, given legislators’ protracted and unresolved fight during the three-month session that ended in early April.

The 122 state House districts and 52 state Senate districts are redrawn every decade to reflect population changes.

The House passed its own redistricting plan, but the Senate rejected it. Both chambers passed a Senate plan, but it stalled because it was in the same resolution with the House plan. When the session ended April 7, both plans died.

Redistricting moved to federal court when the state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People filed a lawsuit, seeking to block elections this year in the legislative districts that have been used for the past decade but are now outdated.

During a court hearing April 22, attorneys on all sides of the case agreed the current districts are unbalanced by population. They said that violates the constitutional principle of one-person, one-vote.

This year’s Mississippi party primaries are Aug. 2, and the general election is Nov. 8.

The 2010 Census showed significant growth in DeSoto County, a relatively affluent area just south of Memphis, Tenn. It showed population losses in the economically struggling Delta.

The House and Senate traditionally draw their own maps and rubber stamp each other’s plans. That didn’t happen this year because Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant said the Senate should have a say in the House map. Bryant, a Republican running for governor, said he thought the proposed House map was unfair to the GOP.

Any redistricting plans adopted by lawmakers must be approved by the U.S. Justice Department, which checks to ensure that the plans don’t dilute minorities’ voting strength. Lawmakers say Justice department approval generally takes about 60 days.

In their ruling Friday, the three federal judges said the maps considered during the 2011 session could be used in future elections only if the maps are passed by legislators and approved by the Justice Department.

When redistricting efforts faltered 20 years ago, Mississippi had its regularly scheduled legislative election in 1991 using outdated districts following the previous year’s Census. Under an order from federal judges, lawmakers drew new districts in early 1992 and new elections were held that fall in those districts, with winners serving the final three years of the terms.

The judges on Friday did not mention the possibility of multiple elections during the upcoming four-year legislative term.