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Judge OKs redistricting plan

By Staff
From staff and wire reports
Dec. 22, 2001
JACKSON Hinds County Chancellor Patricia Wise approved a congressional redistricting plan on Friday that was proposed by Democrats and keeps Lauderdale County intact.
The campaign manager for 3rd District U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering whose district would continue to include Lauderdale County and Meridian criticized the redistricting plan.
Mississippi will lose one of its five congressional districts, a move that is expected to pit Pickering, a Republican, against 4th District U.S. Rep. Ronnie Shows, a Democrat, in the 2002 elections.
The redistricting plan Wise approved combines roughly equal territories of the east central district now represented by Pickering and the southwestern district now represented by Shows.
The plan also has a northern district that dips into Jackson suburbs including parts of heavily-Republican Rankin and Madison counties. It maintains an expanded Coast district and an expanded majority-black Delta district.
Plan needs federal approval
Wise's plan must be submitted to the U.S. Justice Department to ensure fairness to minorities. Leading lawmakers also said before Wise ruled Friday that the state House and Senate might jump back into the map-drawing process if they didn't like her decision.
Republicans plan to appeal Wise's ruling to the state Supreme Court and to federal court.
At the same time, Burns Strider, chief of staff for Shows, said his boss knows the court battles over redistricting will continue.
Wise wrote Friday that "the key issue is equity."
The Republicans had proposed a plan with a new central district comprised mostly of Pickering's territory. It put five of Shows' counties in the central district, five of them in a Delta district and five of them in a Coast district.
The Republicans' plan had more compact districts than the Democrats' plan, but Wise noted in her ruling that federal law doesn't require compactness.
She wrote that this court must evaluate the plans beyond mere appearances. Looks can be deceiving.''
Redistricting heads to court
Redistricting landed in chancery court after state lawmakers couldn't agree how to combine areas represented by Pickering and Shows. Democratic plaintiffs filed a lawsuit, and a group of Republicans intervened as defendants.
In a five-day trial, Wise heard from experts on what standards should be used in redistricting and from public officials on how they want their parts of the state to be treated.
Republicans had tried to block redistricting from being considered in chancery court. They wanted Republican-appointed federal judges to draw a map after lawmakers deadlocked.
Earlier Friday, House Speaker Tim Ford and Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck said the state House and Senate might re-open stalled redistricting talks. Tuck serves as president of the state Senate.
Gov. Ronnie Musgrove has said he'll call lawmakers back in for a special session only if leaders can guarantee they've worked out a plan that will pass both chambers.
The regular 2002 session starts Jan. 8. Ford said if legislators dive back into congressional redistricting, it will happen before then.
As we've said all along, this issue is one that certainly we would've liked for the Legislature to have addressed,'' Tuck said.
Lawmakers failed at redistricting
A plan approved by the House during the November special session combined almost equal portions of Pickering's and Shows' districts to create a new central district. It had a northern district that dipped into the Jackson suburbs, prompting some to call it the tornado'' plan.
A Senate-approved plan had a central district comprised mostly of Pickering's territory. Tuck said it preserved the regional integrity of the state.
Though the plans submitted to Wise by Democrats and Republicans didn't mirror the House and Senate plans, the Democrats' plan resembled the House proposal and the Republicans' plan shared some characteristics of the Senate map.
A separate lawsuit, filed by Republicans, is pending in federal court. Three federal judges have said they'll take over redistricting if they don't see by Jan. 7 that state authorities are on track to have a new plan in place by March 1, the qualifying deadline for 2002 congressional candidates.
Any plan approved by lawmakers or a state court would need approval of the Justice Department, and officials say getting that approval could take up to two months.
Attorney General Mike Moore, who will submit a plan to Justice, said he'll give precedent to a legislative-crafted plan over one drawn by a court.