Activists seek reversal of 3rd District decision

By By William F. West / community editor
Nov. 24, 2002
A Jackson civil rights attorney is pushing the U.S. Supreme Court for a 3rd Congressional District he believes will be more fair to Democrats in the 2004 election.
On Dec. 10, Robert McDuff will try to persuade the nine justices to rule in favor of a group of civil rights activists and against the Mississippi Republican Party and the U.S. Justice Department.
McDuff claims the Justice Department allowed a panel of federal judges to draw a new 3rd District that favored Republican U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering so he could beat Democratic U.S. Rep. Ronnie Shows in a special election Nov. 5.
McDuff will have 25 minutes to argue before the justices, as will the Republicans' attorney, Michael Wallace of Jackson. The federal government will also be allowed 10 minutes to present an argument.
Mississippi Republican Party Chairman Jim Herring said it's time to get on with governing.
The election
Pickering and Shows, the state's junior congressmen, were pitted against each other after the dust settled on Census 2000 and Mississippi had lost a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
This resulted in a months-long legal battle ending in the creation of the current 3rd District. State legislators, charged by the Constitution with drawing a redistricting plan, couldn't reach an agreement, ultimately throwing the decision to a panel of federal judges.
Pickering, 39, of Laurel, represents the current 3rd District. Shows, 55, of Bassfield, represents the current 4th District.
They faced off Nov. 5 in a newly-created 3rd District, where Pickering easily outdistanced Shows and four other candidates and put Shows out of a job.
Dueling lawsuits
To back-track, McDuff had filed a lawsuit in Hinds County Chancery Court on behalf of a group led by former state NAACP leader Beatrice Branch.
Chancery Judge Patricia Wise handed down a plan, which McDuff said created a 37 percent black voting age population. The majority of Mississippi blacks remain loyally Democratic because of the national party's 1960s stand for civil rights.
McDuff also said the overall composition of Wise's plan was fairly balanced between Pickering's 3rd District and Shows' 4th District.
Herring said if the Democrats had their way, they would have attached parts of the Jackson area to the 1st District in Northeast Mississippi and Lauderdale County and much of East Mississippi to the 4th District in South Mississippi.
The Republicans, led by Meridian Mayor John Robert Smith, filed an opposing lawsuit in U.S. District Court.
A three-judge panel was appointed to consider the appeal. Two were from U.S. District Court, Southern District of Mississippi Judge David Bramlette III and Judge Henry T. Wingate. One was from the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans Judge E. Grady Jolly.
The panel overruled Wise and produced its own redistricting plan. It retained much of Pickering's 3rd district but provided for only about a 30 percent black voting age population.
Herring said the panel's decision was fair because it respected economic and regional interests within Mississippi. He added that one of the three judges, Wingate, is black.

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