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GOP, Democrats await ruling in state redistricting

By Staff
From staff and wire reports
Jan. 30, 2002
JACKSON Republicans say they hope politics won't enter the equation as federal judges decide how to draw a new Mississippi congressional map.
A lawyer for Democrats, though, says the U.S. Justice Department needs to act swiftly on a map that has already been approved by a state court judge last month.
Both sides remained at odds Tuesday at the end of a federal trial on congressional redistricting one that Republicans hope will result in a decision from the federal court.
At issue: How to redraw Mississippi's U.S. House districts, reducing them from five to four. Mississippi will lose one of its five districts because census figures show the state didn't grow as fast as other states.
Mississippi legislators tried but failed to redraw districts late last year. That led, first, to a chancery court trial last month and, now, to a federal court trial this week.
Democratic and GOP leaders hope new districts are drawn in time for the March 1 qualifying deadline for this fall's congressional elections.
Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge E. Grady Jolly of Jackson and U.S. District Judges David Bramlette of Natchez and Henry T. Wingate of Jackson all of whom heard the federal trial have not said when they'll release a map.
The judges have given lawyers a Thursday deadline to file additional papers in the case, so the earliest they could rule is Friday.
Meanwhile, a redistricting plan approved by Hinds County Chancery Court Judge Patricia Wise on Dec. 21 awaits approval from the U.S. Department of Justice.
State Attorney General Mike Moore asked Justice to rule on Wise's plan by Thursday. A Justice Department spokesman on Tuesday said a ruling will come no later than Feb. 25.
The federal judges said they went ahead with their own trial because they did not know if the Justice Department would rule on the map before the March 1 qualifying deadline.
A plan approved by Jolly, Bramlette and Wingate would not need the Justice Department's approval.
Lawyers for Republicans and Democrats say they don't know what will happen if the federal judges release a plan and the Justice Department approves the one ordered by Wise.
Rob McDuff of Jackson, who represents Democrats, said that if two conflicting plans are approved, he would appeal to a higher federal court that the Wise plan should prevail because it came from a state official.
The Supreme Court has said that federal courts must defer to the plans adopted by state officials, including state court judges,'' McDuff said.