Court to draw House lines

Published 3:38 pm Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Mississippi voters have completed their work in the 2011 state legislative elections and now face the question of whether there will be back to back state legislative elections because of the failure of state lawmakers to complete legislative redistricting during the 2011 regular session.

But state lawmakers also face the task of congressional redistricting and it now appears that as in 2002, a three-judge federal panel will have to complete that task. In 2002, Republican appointees U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Grady Jolly and U.S. District Judges Henry Wingate and David Bramlette chose the congressional district lines that formed the state’s four congressional districts.

With little progress being made on congressional reapportionment, Republicans has asked the federal courts again to intervene in the drawing of the state’s congressional district lines. Democrats have filed another federal lawsuit seeking to implement their pro-Thompson, pro-Democrat plan.

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Congressional districts are required to be redrawn every 10 years after Census results are released to reflect population shifts. After the most recent Census, each of the four Mississippi congressional districts should have 741,824 people. State law requires that lawmakers offer a new map by Dec. 4, 30 days before the start of the 2012 regular legislative session.

But with 2nd District U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Bolton, and 3rd District U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper, R-Pearl, at loggerheads over the makeup of their respective districts after proposed tweaks have been made to their existing district, it appears unlikely that the two congressmen or the two parties they represent will reach an accord before the deadline passes early next month.

Most Republicans believe that it’s easier to basically keep the demographics of each congressional district at about the same level as they were in the 2002 map, splits as few counties as possible, and fix the population deviation of each district at about the most equal numbers possible – namely, get as close to 741,824 as possible.

Clearly, one expected impact on both legislative and congressional redistricting is the fact that there has been substantial population flight from the Mississippi Delta to regions with more economic opportunity. But despite those obvious shifts, congressional district demographics maintained much the same characteristics since 2002.

The 1st District was 71 percent white; it is now at 70 percent white. The 2nd District was 63 percent black in 2002, but it is now up to 66 percent black. The 3rd District was 64 percent white, but is now down to 63 percent white. Finally, the 4th District was 73 percent white; it is down to 71 percent white.

Yet it’s critical to not that declines in white population numbers hasn’t necessarily been met with rising African-American populations. On the contrary, what is evident is the growth in Mississippi’s Hispanic population and to a lesser degree, the state’s Asian population.

Bottom line, while both Democrats and Republicans have no aversion to lawyering up over congressional redistricting, it’s clear that Mississippi will find that process far easier to solve in 2011 than it was in 2002.

State legislative redistricting is a more complex problem that faces political and legal influences both from within and without the Legislature. There’s at least an even chance that the Legislature we elected earlier this month will serve until the next state general election in 2015.

While some Democratic voters want new district lines, many Democratic lawmakers who got returned to office by the voters like the current districts just fine.

(Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at 601-507-8004 or