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Hinds judge expedites Mississippi remap trial

By Staff
From staff and wire reports
Dec. 7, 2001
JACKSON A chancery court trial to redraw Mississippi's congressional districts has been rescheduled for Dec. 14, a move designed to beat possible federal court action.
Hinds County Chancery Judge Patricia Wise ordered the change Thursday after hearing from attorneys for individuals who filed a lawsuit and those who oppose it.
This is something we still hope the Legislature would take the opportunity to do, which is to draw these lines,'' Wise said.
Three federal judges said Wednesday they would take over congressional redistricting if it's not clear by Jan. 7 that state authorities can agree on a new map before the March 1 candidates' filing deadline.
Wise, in an order filed late Monday, had set a Jan. 14 trial date. In moving the trial up a month on Thursday, she said she hopes to file a redistricting plan by Dec. 24.
Redrawing lines
At issue is congressional redistricting, which must be completed and approved before the March qualifying deadline for candidates planning to run in the November 2002 federal election.
Mississippi now has five congressional districts. But because the state's population grew more slowly than other states in the 1990s, Mississippi will lose one of its U.S. House seats.
State lawmakers met in special session last month to redraw congressional districts.
But they failed to decide how to combine areas now represented by U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering, a Republican, and U.S. Rep. Ronnie Shows, a Democrat.
Democratic activists filed a redistricting suit in Democrat-friendly Hinds County Chancery Court in hopes Wise will redraw districts; Republican activists filed a separate suit in federal court, where they think they can get a better deal.
Chancery judges don't run under party labels, but Hinds County tends to lean Democratic in state and federal elections. The three federal judges hearing the GOP lawsuit were all appointed by Republican presidents.
Waiting for action
Attorney General Mike Moore said Thursday he hopes legislators will come back to Jackson and settle the matter.
I need a court to rule one way or another on redistricting whether a federal court or a state court to prompt the Legislature into action,'' Moore said after Wise moved up the trial date.
House Apportionment and Elections Chairman Tommy Reynolds, D-Charleston, is in charge of the redistricting efforts. He said he's still willing to work with senators, but he doesn't expect lawmakers to resolve their differences before the chancery trial date.
There's a substantial gulf between the two sides in the Legislature,'' said Reynolds.
A House plan favored Shows and a Senate plan favored Pickering. Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck, who presides over the Senate as president, said she holds hope that the Legislature will settle the issue.