Redistricting in Mississippi
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|Note: Redistricting takes place every 10 years after completion of the United States Census. The information here pertains to the 2010 redistricting process.|
|Redistricting in Mississippi|
|Partisan control: |
June 1, 2011
|State Senate: |
|State House: |
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|Redistricting on Policypedia • State legislative and congressional redistricting after the 2010 Census • State-by-state redistricting procedures|
- 1 Process
- 2 Congressional maps
- 3 Legislative maps
- 4 Legal issues
- 5 History
- 6 Constitutional explanation
- 7 See also
- 8 External links
- 9 References
This page is about redistricting in Mississippi. Because of the state's unusual off-year election cycle, every other redistricting year coincides with a gubernatorial and legislative election year, which occurred in 2011. That time constraint, coupled with Mississippi's requirement to confirm the legality of political maps with the Department of Justice, made 2011 a remarkably tightly scheduled year for lawmakers to draw and pass maps before the 2011 elections.
Due to this tight schedule, the state legislature did not complete new maps before the 2011 elections. In October 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the lower court ruling that old districts could be used in 2011 elections. In April 2012, a map was passed in the House.
In Mississippi, the Standing Joint Reapportionment Committee is responsible for redistricting. If they do not complete a plan on schedule, then the task falls to a backup commission. That commission would be composed of:
- Chief Justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court
- Attorney General
- Secretary of State
- House Majority Leader
- Senate Majority Leader
If that commission was called into session, for 2011 it would be comprised of:
- Chief Justice Wiliam Waller, officially nonpartisan
- Attorney General Jim Hood, a Democrat
- Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, a Republican
- Majority Leader Tyrone Ellis, a Democrat
- Senate President Pro Tem Billy Hewes, a Republican
Then Republican Governor Haley Barbour was only allowed to veto the map of Congressional Districts, as the Assembly would pass the legislative maps not as a general bill, but as a joint resolution.
During the first week of the session, on January 8, 2011, the official redistricting bill was filed.
Traditionally, each chamber of the Assembly has drawn a map for its own districts, and then both plans would go forward for joint approval. However, Lieutenant Governor Phil Bryant, running for the governorship in 2011, said that, in his capacity as Senate President, he might not allow that precedent to stand. House Speaker Billy McCoy reacted coolly to Bryant's announcement, saying that his chamber would not second guess the Senate's plan for its own seats and that he expected as much from the Senate regarding House seats. Bryant's refusal to back down and McCoy's willingness to be public about his discomfort with the Lieutenant Governor quickly began to turn the sticking point into a sore point.
One goal that did enjoy bipartisan support was avoiding a special session dedicated to the redistricting question. With an agreed upon budget for what the legislature would spend in 2011, set at $5.4 billion, there was no clear source of funding to cover the cost of such a session. The idea of a Jackson, Mississippi summer spent in suit and tie at the state Capitol was probably not enticing lawmakers to extend the session, either. In the past, sessions have been efficient and quick when members had an autumn election, as in 2011, to anticipate.
Mississippi did indeed move quickly to get maps drawn. By Monday, February 28, 2011, lawmakers on the redistricting commission were ready to present maps to the assembly. Proceeding through committee hearings within each chamber and then to votes before the full House and Senate, the maps' supporters planned to have them move quickly to Governor Haley Barbour's desk.
Barbour said he wouldn't be surprised to see legal action, but that could have brewed within the state while the Justice Department began its lengthy review of Mississippi's plans. That DOJ approval needed to come through by June 1, 2011 in order for candidates to file papers and qualify ahead of the August 2, 2011 primary election.
The members of the Standing Joint Reapportionment Committee in charge of the redistricting process named after the 2010 census were:
Facing a first round of deadlines on March 1, 2011 - when candidates for county office had to declare - redistrictors pronounced the schedule impossible. A more realistic timeframe was imagined to be two or three months for completing maps and a further 60 days spent waiting for pre-clearance from the U.S. Department of Justice.
State Representative Ted Mayhall, a Republican, filed a bill to remedy that, by setting the deadline back to June 1, 2011. His bill, HB 1409, easily passed the House and went on to the Senate. Still, Mississippi's pre-clearance requirement under the Voting Rights Act meant the Justice Department would also have to sign off on the bill, something that could be handled through an expedited hearing. Mayhall's bill was taken up by the Senate and was in committee at the beginning of March.
Knowing they wouldn't meet the March 1, 2011 deadline regardless of the Justice Department's decision, legislators planned to take up redistricting bills in the first two weeks of March.
In order to give the Justice Department a full 60 days to review the maps and still meet the June 1, 2011 deadline, the legislature would need to approve maps of the House and Senate by April 1, 2011.
Voting Rights Act
Another consideration in Mississippi is the Voting Rights Act, or VRA, which affected the state for the 2011 redistricting. The law bans districts from being drawn in such as a way to exclude minority representation and can be a challenge to meet in combination with the other demands of redistricting. Changes in population from 2000 to 2010, including internal migration, required a shift in the districts. Individual House districts grew between 11 percent and 25 percent from 2000 to 2010, meaning almost no existing legislative boundaries had any hope of surviving the 2011 session.
Elsewhere, some cities and regions were picked early on to lose multiple seats at the state level. Mississippi's obligations under the VRA, in addition to imposing a June 1, 2011 deadline on the state's redistricting work, also threatened to put candidates for office in an unwelcome situation. When, in 1991, a civil rights attorney challenged a new district map and won, the courts ordered candidates to run in the old districts, effectively forcing hopefuls for office to run twice. Avoiding such a trap was always at the forefront of planning for 2011.
Republican enclaves, such as Rankin and Madison, saw rapid growth. Topping the list, De Soto County expanded enough to pick up two new seats in the Mississippi House. Looking at DeSoto's population gain, county Democrats pushed to make one of those seat a majority-minority one. Losing population were the Gulf Coast and Delta areas, due in part to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. In addition to considering shifts in rural and urban populations, Mississippi also had to comply with minority rights under the Voting Rights Act.
One imagined outcome had majority black districts, and the Black Caucus, holding steady, while lawmakers representing rural white populations fought to hold onto territory.
GOP gains across the state, much of it attributed to Mississippi's ascendant Governor, Haley Barbour, left the state's Dems feeling skittish. A wave of defections cost them dearly from an already small presence in the state's lower chamber; the Democratic majority in the House had fallen to only 68 of the 121 members, and the Republicans had a narrow lead in the state senate.
Coinciding with the Census' release of detailed data for Mississippi, a group calling itself Mississippians for Fair Redistricting held an inaugural press conference in early February. Led by former Deputy Secretary of State Cory Wilson and supported by such figures as current Lieutenant Governor and 2011 gubernatorial candidate Phil Bryant, the group outlined five principles:
1. As few split precincts as possible, aiming to have zero split precincts
2. Preserving communities of interests and paying attention to population shifts
3. Respect historical boundaries
4. Geographically compact districts
5. Compliance with the Voting Rights Act
Congressional Districts in November 2010
|Partisan Registration and Representation by Congressional District, 2010|
|Congressional District||Republicans||Democrats||Unaffiliated||District Total||Party Advantage*||111th Congress||112th Congress|
|1 (Northeast Mississippi)|
|3 (South Central Mississippi)|
|4 (Gulf Coast)|
|State Totals||3 D, 1 R||1 D, 3 R|
|*The partisan registration advantage was computed as the gap between the two major parties in registered voters.|
In 1991, the last time that redistricting occurred in an election year before 2011, legislative efforts stumbled and the matter moved to the courts. Deciding that a full court battle was prohibitively expensive, a panel of three federal judges decided on the maps. Both major parties believed, going in to 2011, that they would have some valid arguments if redistricting went to court again.
Most federal judges, including those on the 5th Circuit Court, which includes Mississippi, and on the U.S. Supreme Court, were GOP appointees. However, Democrats felt they had allies in the U.S. Justice Department, which answered to Barack Obama's Administration. The year 2011 was the first time that a Democratic administration's Justice Department had overseen redistricting since the Voting Rights Act passed, which some interpreted as cause for Democrats to look for states to act as test cases.
Republicans, in the unusual position of being the majority in the Mississippi State Senate for the first time in 136 years, were keen to keep any fights from escalating to court battles, releasing their own official statement on redistricting proposals.
Among more cynical observers who still foresaw a good chance of the courts acting as ultimate arbiters, the testy battle to the next Speaker of the Mississippi House was considered a prime focus of any legal battle.
Overshadowed by other issues was a battle over counting prison inmates for purposes of apportionment.
It was not until late April of 2011 that the Congressional map even became a point of discussion, and some hoped that refining the boundaries of four existing seats could be less volatile than the state level process.
Though Mississippi lost one seat in 2001, it retained all of its seats in 2011. One question was what would become of the so-called "tornado district," a nickname given to the northern seat that tapered down to a point dipping into central Mississippi.
Legislators were unable to complete new maps before the end of the 2011 session. The 2012 session began on January 3, which was only 10 days before the filing deadline for Congressional candidates. In September 2011, GOP legislators filed court papers asking federal judges to redraw the districts. "There's no time for (legislators) to take it up during the qualifying time, so we thought it was in the best interest of candidates for Congress to have adequate time to know what their districts are going to be," said Arnie Hederman, Republican Party chairman. However, Democratic State Representative Thomas Reynolds, chair of the House elections committee, said he believed that a special session in the Fall of 2011 would allow legislators to complete the map.
Court to draw maps
A panel of three federal judges ruled that it would draw the new Congressional map if legislators could not settle on a compromise before December 4, 2011. "To be practical about it, I don't see any realistic hope that the Legislature will pass a plan," said U.S. Appeals Court Judge E. Grady Jolly.
The judge gave both political parties until December 12, 2011 to comment on redistricting proposals.
The four current members of the U.S. House from Mississippi said they were confident that the court map would be a favorable one.
Judge issues map
On December 20, 2011, judges released a plan to re-draw the four congressional districts. Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann said the plan would allow the state to hold 2012 elections without obtaining pre-clearance from the Justice Department. The new map reduces the number of split counties from eight to four. The map is predominantly unchanged from the one used during the last decade.
State House map
On Thursday, March 3, 2011, the Assembly's standing joint committee on redistricting (SJRC) passed a map addressing only that chamber's districts. When a large graphic was displayed on the House floor that afternoon, it was the first look most lawmakers had gotten at the proposed redrawing of the state. Assembly members not on the committee had been fortunate if they had been able to see a single district or two as the committee kept its plans and its maps under lock and key.
Population shifts, which mirrored economic realities across the state, caused the area around DeSoto to gain seats, while the already struggling Delta lost representation. Having fewer voices at the state capitol reduces avenues to send money and projects to any given area, potentially creating a dropping revenue stream for some areas over time. Other areas, such as the Gulf Coast, held steady.
The map kept the total numbers of House seats at 122 but managed to more than halve the number of precincts bisected by district lines, cutting that number from 449 to 200. Additionally, majority-minority seats, a mandate of the Voting Rights Act, rose by five, bringing the total number of House seats with a majority black population to 44.
With an ideal population for each seat of 24,322, the maps manages to bring each seat into the 95 percent - 105 percent tolerance allowed; effectively meaning all seats are within 10 percent of one another.
A vote could have come on Friday, March 4, 2011, a scenario that would have given legislators almost no time to consider the full map. Republicans, the minority party in the House, indicated they would likely offer their own map as an amendment to the bill, and worked through the night on Thursday into Friday to prepare. Ultimately, the Democratic chair of the SJRC, Tom Reynolds, offered a Joint Resolution that simply asked "to reapportion the House of Representatives of the State of Mississippi in accordance with Section 254, Mississippi Constitution of 1890; and for related purposes."
After an hour of debate, the bill tentatively passed on a motion to reconsider, 65-56, largely on a party line vote. As it was passed on a motion to reconsider, the legislature was ordered to reconvene the following morning for a final vote. The following morning, the House met for only moments before taking a voice vote on the motion reconsider. By voting that down, the previous day's approval of the map stood, and the map went to the Senate for approval.
In keeping with Senator Terry Burton's, co-chair of the SJRC, wish to see both House and Senate plans on the floor sometime in the first week of March 2011, the Senate plan was still expected out of committee by Monday, March 7th. Along with presenting that map, the Senate Elections Committee also killed the House bill.
HCP v. HRAP
Making good use of the time the Senate bought them with its motion to reconsider, House Republicans brought forth the House Republican Alternative Plan (HRAP), which they contrasted to the map already passed and killed in the Senate, a proposal they dubbed the House Consensus Plan (HCP).
A statement released by the GOP outlined HRAP's differences from HCP, a list that Republicans held made their map the better choice. Among the items:
- 143 split precincts, a 16 percent improvement over the HCP's 171
- greater compactness along eight metrics
- treating population shifts more fairly by disolving districts that have lost too many residents and creating new seats elsewhere
- "corrects partisan inequities;" Republicans argued that disparity in average deviation from ideal proportions between Democratic-held and Republican-held districts, -1.0 percent and 1.3 percent, respectively, amounted to a violation of the 'one man, one vote' principle
The new plan, with statistically insignificant disparities of 0.0 percent for Democrats and 0.1 percent for Republicans, aimed to solve that problem. The specific complaint was that, by taking advantage of the allowed (but not encouraged) tolerance for 5 percent deviation from ideal in either direction to make each GOP seat slightly higher than ideal and each Democratic seat slightly lower than ideal, across the entire state House Democrats had managed to deny Republicans a seat they should have had, given the state's overall proportions between Republicans and Democrats.
With the Senate plan on its way to the House and the latter expected to approve it, minority Republicans in the lower chamber had fresh worries. Namely, they were concerned that House leadership would try to merge their preferred map back into the Senate map and pass both as a Joint Resolution.
House Democrats could amass the votes needed to do that and would then send the entire plan to the Senate. Should the upper body concur, redistricting for legislative seats would be finished. However, if the Senate were to reject the House map again, both chambers would have to go into conference, with three members of each attempting to reach an agreement.
Aside from the Senate, the Executive, and the minority Republicans in his own chamber, McCoy drew fire for his plan from some local political entities. Namely, the Aldermen of the cities of Starkville, Corinth, Forest, and Pascagoula all passed resolutions against the House bill.
Mississippi’s Republican House members pushed through a redistricting plan on April 26, 2012 that would imperil white Democratic lawmakers while increasing the number of black majority districts. House members voted 70-49 in favor of the plan, with 63 Republicans and 7 Democrats supporting it.
Republicans, who held a House majority for the first time since Reconstruction, drew a map matching five pairs of representatives, pitting incumbents against each other in several districts.
The map also solidified Republican districts in the GOP bastion of DeSoto County, which grew rapidly in the 2000-2010 decade. It had three whole districts and shared three seats with neighboring counties. Under the new plan, it would have six districts entirely within its borders and share only one seat.
Even if the plan passed the Senate, it still needed to be approved by the United States Justice Department because of Mississippi’s history of disenfranchising voters.
State Senate map
The Senate bill did not, as had been expected, go to the floor on Monday, the 7th of March. Lt. Governor Bryant indicated he wanted more time to review the map, and rumors circulated that he had concerns with specific areas of the plan. He also cited a wish to devote time to scrutinizing the recently passed House map.
The first full week of March, 2011, as the Senate plan came into focus, affluent DeSoto County, whose population exploded in recent years, did indeed tentatively gain a third Senate seat, complimenting the two Representative districts the area had already picked up. The Senate was also set to expand, from 12 to 15, the number of majority black districts and to cut split precincts dramatically, from 129 down to 17. To that end, two competing plans emerged. One placed the new majority-minority seat in Hattiesburg, an overwhelmingly black area and also one that leans Republican. An opposing plan, backed by Lt. Governor Bryant, sought to locate the seat in Jackson, also a city with a high black population.
Bryant did tell reporters he was working with political consultant Josh Gregory to draw his own Senate map. In explaining his work on a competing map to that to come out of Committee, the Lieutenant Governor cited Democratic attempts to redraw three seats, centered around Hattiesburg, in the Pine Belt. All three were Republican held and whites had the voter registration edge. Bryant argued that what was presented as adding a majority-minority seat to the area was actually an improper bid to create an easy seat for Democrats.
On Tuesday, March 8, 2011, the Senate Elections Committee passed Bryant's map with his preference for locating majority-minority seats. The same Committee also, as expected, killed the House's map, citing improper distribution of seats.
However, Bryant's victory was short-lived; in voting on the map, Senate Democrats uniformly bucked the Lieutenant Governor's proposal and were joined by 11 Republicans to defeat the bill 35-16. During testimony, Burton himself testified that Bryant's plan was too likely to fail the meet Justice Department standards for it to be passed. In its place, the original Senate plan, the map backed by Senator Burton, passed. After the vote, Bryant and Burton held a joint press conference and insisted there were no hurt feelings. Bryant, however, took some heat for his move and its possible effects on his gubernatorial campaign.
The Senate agreed to hold its approved bill, JR 201, over the weekend in order to allow the House, in particular the Republican caucus, to go back to work on its own districts before asking them to take up the Senate map.
When the House took up consideration of the Senate map, the debate was perceived as harsh by observers. Greenville Democrat Willie Bailey attacked Bryant along with Governor Barbour, announcing while on the House floor that, "We all had integrity until those two players got in the game." On a 69-52 vote, falling largely on party lines, the House amended the Senate bill by adding their own map back in, as expected, and passed the amended bill.
In that same marathon debate session, the House killed the alternative plan its GOP members had prepared. Having passed his preferred bill a second time, Speaker McCoy issued a statement on March 16, 2011, reading, in part, "As far as I am concerned, the matter is settled. The Senate has approved its plan, and the House has approved its plan." In the same statement, McCoy explicitly stated he would refuse to conference with the Senate at all.
Having drawn that line in the sand, Democrats went into a strategy session while the press wondered if Mississippi would indeed hold back to back legislative elections yet again. The next day, March 17, 2011, the Senate voted 29-18 to seek conference with the House.
By mid-March 2011, the entire process was at a standstill while both chambers fought over maps.
Almost immediately following the invitation to conference, black members of the Senate assailed Lt. Governor Bryant for his choice of three white Republicans to represent the upper chamber in the conference, assuming such a meeting ever happened. At that point, House Speaker McCoy was still refusing to even appoint any members of his chamber, something that advocacy group Mississippians for Fair Redistricting publicly challenged.
Bryant answered that his selections had been based on those lawmakers who had already invested time and developed expertise in understanding redistricting. To bolster this argument, the lieutenant governor pointed to his choice of Terry Burton, who had voted to accept the House plan. Additionally, Bryant named Senate President Pro Tem Billy Hewes and Senator Chris McDaniel.
McCoy instead pressed his plan to send the House map directly to the U.S. Justice Department, though not without some questions about how, or if, he would legally be able to do that.
While the House Speaker persevered in finding a way to avoid getting Senate approval, Senator Hob Bryan, a Democrat representing Armory, filed a motion to restart the redistricting process. It failed, and Lt. Governor Bryant said he found the motion unnecessary, as the process is ongoing and simply awaiting the House to agree to conference, a sign that even within the Senate, members were in disagreement about what was actually happening in the process.
With time running out and a lack of clarity as to whether the legislature would vote to extend their session, the executive branch appeared unconcerned by the idea that the legislature might fail. When asked by reporters if he was worried about the unresolved situation with sine die looming, Bryant stated, "Oh, I'm not." He added that he interpreted the Mississippi Constitution, which calls for redistricting, "in the second year following the 1980 decennial census and every 10 years thereafter" to mean redistricting need not be done until 2012 anyway.
Governor Barbour sounded similar ideas, saying, "It's better for them to have an appropriate plan than to meet some artificial deadline," leaving open the distinct possibility of double elections in 2011 and again in 2012.
On Tuesday, April 5, 2011, the Senate passed a resolution, SC 692, that would allow Lieutenant Governor Bryant and Speaker McCoy to sit down and directly work out the quagmire that had become Mississippi's attempt to draw political maps. The resolution would also allow the two men to call the legislature back as late as April 11, 2011. However, political junkies widely anticipated that, if the House passed the resolution, they would do so as part of a plan to resurrect the already twice rejected House plan.
The legislature convened and adjourned several times on April 6, 2011, ultimately calling it a day in the early afternoon. The day's unusual session had been devoted to a series of terse meetings seeking a way to resolve redistricting without resorting to the federal courts. However, the House did vote to take up the Senate's resolution. As expected, the added the map championed by McCoy back in.
Debate unfolded rapidly on the legality of McCoy's choice to attach his map to the Senate resolution, an act that might have violated the House's own rules, specifically Rule 35, which reads:
"No motion or proposition on a subject different from that under consideration shall be admitted under color of an amendment; nor shall any amendment be adopted changing the original purpose of the bill.”
While the House argued internally over the meaning of Rule 35, the Senate Rules Committee, under Chairman Billy Hewes, a Republican, refused to allow the Senate to vote on the House's version of the Resolution at all. By then, Lt. Governor Bryant has already been advised the House's tactic was unconstitutional and that he would do well to ensure he and his chamber had nothing to do with it.
JR 201, the conference resolution, was listed as "Disposition: DEAD" on the legislature's official website.
Publication of maps
As eager citizens waited to see what the legislature had drawn up, the tone of many elected officials was one of resignation to the fact that some people would be unhappy with the new districts and with hope that Mississippi would make the best of population shifts, particularly changes to the coast in Katrina's wake.
Finally, on the afternoon of Thursday, March 3, 2011, maps of the proposed new districts for the entire state were posted on the floor of the House, that chamber's Redistricting Committee having approved it earlier that day. The plan, crafted largely by the majority Democrats, reduced split precincts and added five new majority black seats. As for whether House Republicans would offer their own proposal, members declined to say, but the GOP delegation was studying the map overnight.
The Senate, with 52 seats to apportion, was still expected to release its map on Monday, March 7, 2011, the same day that chamber would vote.
Going into 2011, Democrats held the House, while Republicans had slim control of the Senate. The outgoing Governor was a member of the GOP. His Lieutenant Governor, also a Republican, was both Senate President and a candidate to succeed to the governorship.
In early 2011, Republicans were reveling in having control of the Senate for the first time in 136 years. They were also justifiably confidant they would retain the governor's seat in the 2011 elections.
The Standing Joint Committee on Redistricting had both a House and a Senate Chair, each belonging to the respective chamber's majority party. House Speaker McCoy and Senate President Bryant sparred publicly and early over redistricting. The initial round came when Bryant, who could quite possibly be the sitting governor when the legislature would convene in January 2012, made it clear the Senate would not rubber stamp the House plan under his watch.
Although a joint committee draws both sets of maps, each map must individually pass both chambers. Historically, a gentlemen's agreement, whereby each chamber quietly approved each others maps, had become standard practice. While Bryant made it clear the Senate would scrutinize any House map before voting on it, McCoy was dealing with protests from the minority Republicans in the House that the lower chamber's map was unfair.
As the joint committee came close to passing maps out of committee, Speaker McCoy penned an op-ed for the Clarion Ledger, averring that the ongoing process was fair and warning readers of the cost and difficulty lawsuits would bring. The piece also challenged the GOP's complaints, saying "It appears that Republicans are setting the stage to complain about the House plan, regardless of what it looks like."
McCoy drew some blowback for calling out Republicans in a column ostensibly pushing for a depoliticized redistricting process. Some pointed out that the ten Senators on the committee were five and five from each party while none of ten House members belonged to the Democratic Party.
Meanwhile, Lt. Governor Bryant publicly struck out at an institution that had been chafing Mississippi redistrictors for some time: the continued mandate of the Voting Rights Act. Bryant told an audience, referring to the requirement that the state clear its maps with the U.S. Department of Justice, "that happened in 1965, and I'm offended by the fact that the federal government does not trust members of this Legislature to draw these lines." His remarks drew mixed reactions and he qualified his opinion by saying he did not expect VRA oversight to end anytime soon. Black lawmakers, while expressing happiness at the House map and while noting that Mississippi has more elected black officials than any other state, still denied Bryant's assertion that the VRA had run its course.
Elsewhere, Bryant's open displeasure with both the VRA and the House plan passed by Democrats, coupled with Governor Haley Barbour's open criticism of the House map, led to editorials that suggested the VRA was still very much needed in Mississippi, if only to stop what was described as partisan overreach by Barbour and Bryant. Yet, as the legislature ran out the clock without a plan, public criticism of lawmakers turned to the inability of the two chambers to settle on a plan despite a year of study and preparation followed by a full legislative session.
The VRA had become a particularly irksome point of contention for Republicans in 2011. In addition to perceived violations of states rights and frustration at having to tolerate the federal government's slow timetable in delivering 'pre-clearance,' some in the GOP felt the legislation had achieved its purpose and had outlived its usefulness. However, the largest fear for the GOP was that, with President Barack Obama (D) in the White Office and aggressive administration appointees in the Justice Department, political vendettas would be pursued under the guise of battling racism.
The 2010 Census and 2011 redistricting represented the first time since the VRA was passed in 1965 that the Presidency had been in Democratic hands during a redistricting year.
Cottonmouth Blog Incident
Meanwhile, the last, tenuous hopes were in danger of falling prey to rumors. A story flew around the state Capitol in April 2011 which alleged that Bryant had been in contact with a judge on the Fifth Circuit Court and had been assured the GOP's problems with the House map would be "take[n] care of" in return for Governor Haley Barbour having supported the judge's nomination. This story was first reported on the Cottonmouth Blog.
The blog, run by Matt Eichelberger, that reported the story also alleged that several Republican Senators had been part of the meeting, and the entire story caused Speaker McCoy to write letters to Bryant and Barbour asking about the rumor. Barbour denied having been at any meeting and Bryant responded, "I want to assure you that I did not make the comments reported in the blog. I am sure you know that you cannot believe everything that you read on the Internet."
Bryant did confirm he met privately with Senate Republicans on Monday evening, where he outlined what to expect if the maps wound up in the hands of the courts. Bryant told press he had noted the Chief Judge of the 5th Circuit Edith Jones was a Reagan appointee and that Haley Barbour had been White House staff in 1965 during Jones' appointment process. The Lieutenant Governor went on to say he has been outlining a political landscape without inferring anything and that it was absurd to think the Senate Republican delegation would, or could, influence a federal judge.
Cottonmouth Blog writer Matt Eichelberger is an attorney, a partner in a Jackson area firm specializing in criminal defense and personal injury trials. Previously, he worked with the public defender's office in Hinds County.
On September 14, 2012, the U.S. Department of Justice approved Mississippi's new legislative districts, but noted that legal action could still be taken against them. Assistant U.S. Attorney General Thomas E. Perez stated, "The Attorney General does not interpose any objection to the specified changes. However, we note that Section 5 expressly provides that the failure of the Attorney General to object does not bar subsequent litigation to enjoin enforcement of the changes."
Unresolved election issues
When on April 7, 2011, Mississippi legislators voted to adjourn for the weekend, it left redistricting still unfinished with pressing questions about the state's elections.
Speaker McCoy prepared a statement for the press reading, in part, "Never in my life did I think I would ever live to see the day that a body of this Legislature would willingly cede its authority to a federal court. But that is what the Mississippi Senate is on the verge of doing."
With no map finished in time for the June 1, 2011 filing deadline for elections, officials still planned to have Mississippi's 2011 elections be held, but the state could be forced to elect the same offices again in 2012 once a map is decided on. The state went through this process in 1991 and 1992. Doing so again would likely be a costly, embarrassing process and proof positive that the legislature failed to draw maps. Having missed its initial and extended deadlines, the legislature stood to lose control of the process to the federal courts. In early April, 2011, no one wanted to say for certain if back-to-back elections were in order.
Governor Haley Barbour could have called a special session, but his office did not indicate early if that was a likely outcome. Calling an early session would have only been wise if the parties involved believed that it could produce a map, something more or less impossible to imagine in April 2011. Lieutenant Governor Phil Bryant favors a strict adherence to the Mississippi Constitution, calling for redistricting to be completed in the second year following the Census - that is, in 2012. However, a lesser know Constitutional provision empowers the legislature to "at any other time" draw maps for the House and Senate.
Congressional maps, which could easily be delayed until early 2012, were not the problem, as federal midterms elections were not until November 6, 2012. It was the looming legislative elections that demanded completed maps for the State House and Senate. Per an estimate from the office of the Mississippi Secretary of State, a second set of primaries alone could cost half a million dollars; this estimate did not consider what counties and cities would have to spend. Such a predicament could have also triggered more lawsuits. Maine was already facing a lawsuit over the decision to delay drawing maps when Census data was available, and Mississippi could have conceivably followed in that path.
Senate Democrats pushed for a vote on the resolution with the House map attached, but the majority quashed it. Soon after, 30-17, the upper chamber voted for sine die. Once the Senate adjourned for the year, Lt. Governor Bryant remarked:
"For three weeks now, we've said, 'Come and talk to us, send someone to sit down and help negotiate. We have differences that we hope can be worked out.' "It has been deafening: 'No.'"
While Barbour restated his willingness to recall lawmakers if an agreement was reached, Bryant stressed the folly of either chamber sitting without a solid agreement to vote on. Regular legislative sessions cost Mississippi approximately $20,000 a day while special session run close to $30,000 a day. Although most members of the House and Senate left Jackson and turned their attention to campaigning, a few key legislators supposedly remained to work on a plan. McCoy openly blamed Republicans for forcing the state to shoulder the cost of two legislative elections and a court battle for the sake of partisan advantage. Bryant denied ever having deliberately sought a judicial determination of redistricting and described the onerous prospect of two elections in two years as a necessary evil: "If that's what it takes to get a fair redistricting plan, I think it's a great investment Two elections would purge I think some of those old politicians that serve only their self-interests."
NAACP state lawsuit
Local NAACP filed Mississippi's first 2011 redistricting lawsuit on March 1, 2011 in an effort to push the qualifying deadline for candidates in the 2011 off-year elections back 90 days, to June 1, 2011. Such a move would provide the 12 counties named in the lawsuit with time to draw county-level district boundaries, an issue of no mean importance as would-be office holders weigh entering races and consider if they meet residency requirements.
Counsel for the NAACP indicated more suits could follow. The same week, members of the legislative redistricting committee, who had already announced maps might be made available for public viewing in coming days, attempted to cool down speculation, saying they were going to take time and avoid past decades' missteps. This deliberation in releasing maps of Mississippi's new districts included the surprising admission that even lawmakers who did not sit on the redistricting committee had only seen single districts, as the statewide maps were kept under lock and key.
NAACP federal lawsuit
In response to the failure to pass a House plan, the NAACP filed Mississippi's first federal lawsuit on March 17, 2011. Representing the NAACP and three other plaintiffs was Hazelhurst-based attorney Carol Rhodes, along with one of the lead plaintiffs from the 1991 lawsuit. Hours before Rhodes brought suit, the Mississippi State Senate had voted 29-18 to invite conference from the House. Speaking to media, Rhodes echoed House Speaker's McCoy central argument, that the tradition of each house signing off on the other's map is itself reason enough for the Senate to acquiesce to the House map.
Named as defendants were the Governor (who sent an open letter to legislative Republicans urging them to fight McCoy's bill), Attorney General, and Mississippi Secretary of State, along with election commission officials. On top of seeking the removal of redistricting to the courts, the NAACP wanted an immediate restraining order to prevent any other plan from being implemented. Southern District U.S. District Judge Dan Jordan, a George W. Bush appointee, was originally set to hear the case, ultimately ruling on the NAACP petition to have a federal judge take over the entire redrawing process. The NAACP also indicated it would have its own maps ready to submit to the court within days of filing.
The lawsuit came as Speaker William McCoy confidently told media, "We're going to the Justice Department. We have nothing further to talk about with the Senate." McCoy also said he already has attorneys for the House working on a way to bypass the Senate and send his map directly to the Justice Department. Lt. Governor Bryant, President of the Senate and heavily involved in 2011 redistricting, described McCoy's tactics as "brinksmanship" and vowed the House would not pass a plan over Senate objections, saying, "I can assure you it will be done. I am not angry with anyone."
On Monday, March 21, 2011, House leaders voted to join the lawsuit, with Tommy Reynolds and his House Apportionment and Elections Committee voting 10-4 to join, a party line split. Reynolds cited the cost of holding elections twice while making it clear all legal work for the NAACP lawsuit would be privately paid.
The following week, Senate Democrats fell in line, voting in their Caucus to join the lawsuit.
Meanwhile, the lawsuit had been moved to a new judge after Daniel Jordan recused himself when a family member filed to run for the state legislature. Named to replace him was Carlton Reeves, appointed to the federal bench in December 2010 and, before that, an attorney in Mississippi. Notably, Reeves was the lead attorney for the state's Democratic party in the aftermath of the 2000 Census, something that caused Republicans to immediately call for the new judge to recuse himself.
Additionally, Reeves co-counsel in the 2001 legal battles, Rob McDuff, was once again representing House Democrats in 2011.
Governor Haley Barbour, for his part, released a public statement saying he was playing no official or unofficial role in redistricting, and that his sole objection to the legislative plans was over a failure to consider population growth in some counties.
Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann filed papers in federal court on April 1, 2011 asking a federal judge to dismiss to NAACP case, arguing that the Mississippi Constitution allowed the state to wait until 2012 to complete redistricting. If the courts accepted Hosemann's argument, it would mean the NAACP lawsuit would be dismissed as premature. The state Republican party partially backed Hosemann in an April 8, 2011 brief, which conceded the court had jurisdiction to hear the case but asked that Hosemann's argument, based on Section 254 of the state's Constitution, be given "full and careful consideration."
On the evening of April 5, 2011, a local political blog tracking the redistricting process reported rumors that there was no real chance Reeves would recuse himself. They were indeed rumors as, in an order issued late on April 11, 2011, Reeves did recuse himself.
Tom Lee became the third judge to preside over the case, notably before any arguments had actually been heard. Lee, a 1984 appointee under Ronald Reagan, was on the 1991 panel that ordered Mississippi to hold back-to-back elections.
In recusing himself, Reeves cited not his previous work as an attorney for Democrats in redistricting but his own lifetime NAACP membership and the need to maintain an appearance of impartiality, saying, "a reasonable suspicion of partiality is too great a possibility to risk." He also stressed that he had no financial interest in the NAACP and had not held any actual office in the organization since heading his college chapter a quarter century earlier.
Two Republicans, Delbert Hosemann and Phil Bryant, backed a special session in 2012, interpreting the state Constitution to allow and even mandate that. Acting independently of Mississippi's Democratic Attorney General, Hosemann, the Secretary of State, pushed his motion to dismiss, which Bryant openly endorsed.</ref>
The state's Republican party, however, came out in favor on allowing the judicial action to proceed. Attorney General Jim Hood drafted an open response to Hosemann, saying running under current boundaries after Census data were available would violate federal law, and that two elections would be an unacceptable waste of money.
NAACP lead attorney on the case Carol Rhodes challenged Bryant's take on the Constitution, saying, "The Constitution says the Legislature may redistrict at any time, which they did, February through March." Through Rhodes, the NAACP asked the court to order the Attorney General to submit the maps, including the technically unapproved House map, to the Justice Department.
On June 7, 2011, the NAACP filed notice that it would take its suit to the U.S. Supreme Court. The organization argued that the 2011 elections should be blocked because district populations were unbalanced.
Federal court panel
The legislative failure to settle on maps left the process in the hands of a panel of three federal judges. In addition to Tom Lee, also presiding over NAACP v. Haley Barbour et al, sat on the panel. Joining him were Grady Jolly and Louis Guirola. Jolly and Lee were both Reagan appointees and Guirola was named to the bench by George W. Bush.
All three judges were named by Chief Justice of the 5th Circuit Court, Edith Jones.
In mid April 2011, Senator Terry Burton filed a motion asking for Senate candidates to be allowed to run under the new map, which did pass both maps, leaving only the contested House map up to the court.
Lieutenant Governor Bryant went on the offensive, assuring Mississippians that judiciary scrutiny would be fair, telling attendees at a Hattiesburg meeting, "They don't care about political opponents, they don't care about political opportunities, they only care about the constitution I believe and what the plans should look like. And I think all of Mississippi can live with that."
On the outside chance that an agreement could be reached in time for Barbour to recall the legislature, Senator Burton and Representative Reynolds continued working to tweak the map enough to make a special session worthwhile. Burton, through his own counsel, Andy Taggert, asked the panel to separate the Senate map, which had been approved, from the House map, which had never passed the Senate. When asked how the GOP would react to a court order that unapproved maps be submitted to the Justice Department, a Republican party attorney replied, "You'll get a lawsuit." Such stances had some merit, as the state's Constitution explicitly says maps are to be approved by both chambers before being used.
Judge Lee ordered all parties involved in the lawsuit to appear before him on the morning of Friday, April 22, 2011. At the same time, Governor Barbour had expressed continued willingness to recall legislators and some leaders were quietly working on a compromise. After the day's hearing, Judge Lee offered no immediate indication of his ruling.
At that status hearing, Robert McDuff, attorney for the House Republicans, and Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood both argued for "placeholder" elections in 2011; McDuff pressed for special elections under new maps in 2012 while Hood suggested drawing new maps for use in 2015 or even 2019. Hood added that paying for two elections would ultimately cost taxpayers less than paying for a protracted court battle. By the day of the hearing, the state had already covered $200,000 in legal costs.
Two other options were put forward; first, to approve the contested maps on an "interim" basis, a position primarily supported by Democrats, and secondly to turn the project over to an expert, a so-called "special master", something sought by the state's Republican party and by Governor Haley Barbour. In addition, Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann was still pushing for doing nothing at all judicially and allowing the legislature to resume the matter in 2012.
If the judges opted for back-to-back elections, they still lacked the power to order Governor Barbour to call such a special election.
There was, however, at least one laugh in the packed chambers. When Republican attorney Michale Wallace was asked how he felt about leaving the entire matter to the U.S. Justice Department, he answered, "My friends in the Justice Department all lost their jobs," eliciting bipartisan laughter.
The first hint of where the panel might come down was a statement issued on Friday, April 29, 2011, saying the judges were "inclined to issue an order" compelling Mississippi to hold its 2011 elections under the maps each chamber had created for its own districts. Such a ruling was explained as the best possible interim solution given that all parties agreed the existing maps were inadequate and given the looming June 1, 2011 qualifying deadline for primaries.
That same weekend, Secretary of State Hosemann reiterated his preference for allowing the legislature to resume the task in 2012 in an open editorial. In part, he stated, "The decision does not pass constitutional muster, is short-sighted and sets a bad precedent for future redistricting."
Second hearing and decision
The second hearing was set for Tuesday, May 10, 2011 and had a May 5, 2011 deadline to submit evidence. The GOP continued to push for maps drawn by an outside expert, something that was, by that point, an uphill battle.
Immediately after the hearing, the panel had no decision. While the state's politicos waited to hear, blogs speculated wildly; according to one source, the Mississippi Republican Party quietly backed Secretary Hosemann's position and held that the NAACP and the Democratic Party had planned the lawsuit together. Hosemann continued to argue that implementing the new maps would take at least two months, time Mississippi's counties did not have. The court, while working on its ruling, continued to stress that it would minimize intrusion into state politics.
The ruling was handed down on Monday, May 16, 2011. Mississippi actually got two choices - an ultimatum rather than a simple order. However, given that they were ordered to craft a workable map immediately or run under the current maps, many were unhappy with the ruling. The ruling stipulated that any new maps would have to earn pre-clearance from the Justice Department by June 1, 2011. It also specifically said the legislature could craft new maps in their 2012 session. The ruling also affected county-level elections. Attorney General Jim Hood was also ordered to act as a liaison and keep the panel apprised of the legislature's progress going forward.
In ruling, the panel noted they had indeed changed their position from the aftermath of the first hearing, when they publicly shared that they were inclined to order elections be held under the newly drawn but not passed maps. In part, they said:
We observe that our order seems to comport with everyone's 'second choice.' That — perhaps irrelevant — point aside, we are certain that it is the most respectful of all proposals to the principles of federalism, to the unchallenged laws of the State of Mississippi, to the holdings of the Supreme Court of the United States, and to the proper placement of responsibility for reapportionment — the Legislature of the State of Mississippi."
Prominent state Republicans, Lieutenant Governor Phil Bryant, Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, State Treasurer Tate Reeves, and Senator Billy Hewes among them, roundly applauded the decision. Hosemann touched on the win for states right implied in the decision while, on the other side, the NAACP only said that its lawyers were reviewing the decision. Right leaning advocacy groups, such as the Mississippi Tea Party, also lauded the ruling.
The practical implication of the decision was, first, a special session sometime in late 2011 to have a fresh go at legislative districts and to address the state's four Congressional seats. Constitutionally, the legislature may handle redistricting anytime before the end of 2012.
The ruling allowed 2011 elections to go forward but did not settle what would happen in 2012 or after. The panel reserved the privilege of deciding if a special election would be held in 2012, though it was also possible someone would bring a lawsuit seeking to force just such an outcome. The cost of a special election sat against the unpalatable idea of holding onto districts drawn with 2000 data until the 2015 legislative elections. Rob McDugg, counsel to the House Appropriations Committee, did recommend to the panel that they, "should try to avoid the expense of a special election next year."
At least two key players in redistricting, Senator Terry Burton and Representative Tommy Reynolds, publicly urged Governor Barbour to call a special session. However, that outcome appeared unlikely from the beginning; this sentiment was reaffirmed when the Governor quickly said, through a spokesman, that he would not be invoking that privilege.
A local political scientist averred that, one way or another, the matter would resolved without going to the same stakes as happened in 1991; the reason, he said, was that the 1991 mess was over race, an issue replaced with partisan battles in 2011. "People are irrational about race. They are normally rational, if not self serving, about partisanship."
The GOP notched up an unexpected victory at the end of May when, days ahead of the qualifying deadline for candidates, the architect of the state House map, Speaker Billy McCoy, announced he would not run for re-election. "There is a season for everything. I am confident there is a season for me after legislative service," McCoy wrote. "By God's grace, I am planning on spending more time in the beautiful foothills of the Appalachians with my family and friends."
On Tuesday, June 7, 2011, Mississippi's NAACP filed notice of its intention to appeal the decision before the U.S. Supreme Court.
In October 2012, the state NAACP filed a federal lawsuit asking for the results of the 2011 election to be thrown out, and for special elections to be held under a court-drawn map. Lower courts ruled against the NAACP, and on May 20, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the ruling without comment.
Deviation from "Ideal Districts"
|2000 Population Deviation|
|State House Districts||9.98%|
|State Senate Districts||9.30%|
|Under federal law, districts may vary from an 'Ideal District' by up to 10%, though the lowest number achievable is preferred. 'Ideal Districts' are computed through simple division of the number of seats for any office into the population at the time of the Census.|
The Mississippi Constitution provides the Legislature authority over redistricting in Section 254 of Article XIII. However, if the Legislature fails to meet the deadline, Section 254 provides for the creation of an apportionment commission.
- State Legislative and Congressional Redistricting after the 2010 Census
- State-by-state redistricting procedures
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Cite error: Invalid
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