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Republicans seeking federal judicial relief

By Staff
Nov. 28, 2001
It's time for federal courts to resolve congressional redistricting issue.
The federal lawsuit filed by Meridian Mayor John Robert Smith and others is a sure sign that Republicans in Mississippi have no confidence in the Legislature's ability to redraw congressional district lines. And, by meeting in special session and failing to adopt a new plan, legislators have given much credence to the GOP's argument.
In a seven-page complaint and a six-page motion for a preliminary injunction, the lawsuit seeks appointment of a three-judge panel and several potential areas of relief, including:
1. Permanently preventing use of the current districts in any election;
2. Electing four members of the U.S. House from the state at-large; or
3. Having the federal judges draw new boundaries.
Attorney Arthur F. Jernigan Jr. of the Jackson law firm Watson and Jernigan filed the suit on behalf of Smith, Richland Mayor Shirley Hall and Forest banker Gene Walker. In an interesting irony for conservative Republicans, Jernigan requests that legal fees and expenses be paid under the Civil Rights Attorneys Fees Act.
Since the Legislature punted, it is likely that the federal courts will assume jurisdiction even as Democrats fight to keep the issue in a Hinds County Chancery Court. In at least two other states with similar redistricting problems, the federal courts have stepped in.
Suffice it to say that while the legal maneuvering continues, the March 1, 2002, qualifying deadline for congressional elections is fast approaching. At the moment, potential candidates are hedging their bets by visiting all sorts of places that may eventually wind up in their districts.
We are firm believers in the right of the state's elected officials to make their own decisions and solve problems. But in the case of congressional redistricting, the Legislature failed and it is time for the federal courts to take over. While no one may be perfectly satisfied with the plan produced by the courts, at least it a court-ordered plan could be in place in time to hold the 2002 elections as scheduled.