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Hinds court sets January remap trial

By Staff
From staff and wire reports
Dec. 5, 2001
JACKSON Mississippi's congressional redistricting squabble will go to trial Jan. 14 in Hinds County Chancery Court if lawmakers don't resolve the issue before then, a judge has decided.
Judge Patricia Wise ruled that she can hear the case because chancery court is a court of equity and the Mississippi Supreme Court has not prohibited the chancery court from hearing cases involving electoral matters.''
Wise noted the state attorney general's argument that redistricting should be decided by lawmakers.
However, when the Legislature fails to act in a timely manner to adopt a redistricting plan, it is the duty of the court to adopt a plan,'' Wise wrote in a ruling filed late Monday and made public Tuesday.
In Meridian, state Sen. Videt Carmichael said he hated to see the courts become involved. He said congressional redistricting can be handled when the 2002 regular session starts in January.
State Rep. Greg Snowden, R-Meridian, said as far as he can tell all of the action in redistricting is now in the courts. Nothing, he said is happening n the Legislature "either openly, or, as far as I know, behind the scenes."
New district lines
Mississippi is losing one of its five congressional districts because its population grew more slowly than many other states in the 1990s. Lawmakers met for a one-week special session in early November and couldn't agree on a new map.
The legislator in charge of redistricting isn't optimistic that the state House and Senate will resolve their differences in the next few weeks.
I guess anything is always possible. It just isn't very likely,'' House Apportionment and Elections Chairman Tommy Reynolds, D-Charleston, said Tuesday.
Mississippi's two newest congressmen, Republican Chip Pickering and Democrat Ronnie Shows, are likely to be tossed together into a new district that combines parts of southwest, central and east Mississippi.
Time to draw the new map is drawing tight because 2002 congressional candidates face a March 1 qualifying deadline. The U.S. Justice Department must approve Mississippi's new districts to ensure fairness to minorities, and that could take up to two months.
Activists make move
Democratic activists Rims Barber, Bea Branch and others filed suit in Hinds County Chancery Court in October seeking to have new districts drawn there if legislators failed to act.
We still hope the Legislature will adopt a plan, but if it doesn't the state court has the responsibility to do that itself,'' Rob McDuff, attorney for those who brought the case, said Tuesday.
Gov. Ronnie Musgrove has said he'll call legislators back into special session only if they have a map in hand and ready for a vote. The regular, three-month 2002 legislative session begins Jan. 8.
A similar lawsuit has been filed by Republican activists in U.S. District Court in Jackson. Three federal judges heard arguments on motions in that case last week and didn't immediately rule on whether the federal court will take jurisdiction over redistricting. They could also defer to the chancery court or give lawmakers more time to act.
Attorney General Mike Moore, one of the state election commissioners being sued over redistricting in chancery and federal courts, said Tuesday: The Legislature needs to fix this problem and fix it now.''