Dec. 5, 2001
Conservative Mississippians and that includes most folks in east Mississippi are on the verge of feeling the full wrath of a liberal judge in Hinds County over the politically contentious issue of congressional redistricting.
In a move Tuesday that may or may not be the final word on the subject, Hinds County Chancery Court Judge Patricia Wise, a Democrat, set a Jan. 14 trial date because the Mississippi Legislature failed to adopt a new congressional redistricting plan. The Legislature has been roundly criticized for this failure, but now the matter has taken a dangerous turn.
Wise is one of the most liberal judges in Mississippi and is not likely to seriously entertain the arguments of conservatives that new congressional district boundaries should be fair or reflect areas of common interests.
As Mississippi copes with the very real cost of stagnant population growth by losing a seat in the U.S. House, it makes no sense for a single county judge to write a plan that covers the whole state. If the Legislature is incapable of doing its duty, then as we have previously argued a competent federal court should step in.
Such a federal case filed by Meridian Mayor John Robert Smith and other Republican activists is pending in U.S. District Court in Jackson. Three federal judges heard arguments on motions in that case last week and didn't immediately rule on whether the federal court will take jurisdiction. The federal judges could defer to the chancery court or give lawmakers more time to act. Or, they could write the plan themselves.
Problem is, time is getting tight 2002 congressional candidates face a March 1 qualifying deadline. The U.S. Justice Department must approve Mississippi's new districts to ensure fairness to minorities, and that could take up to two months.
Gov. Ronnie Musgrove has said he'll call legislators back into special session only if they have a map in hand and ready for a vote. The regular session begins Jan. 8.
If the grand scheme by Democrat leadership in the state House is to have redistricting decided by the Hinds County Chancery Court, then shame on them. If the Legislature is incapable to reaching a decision, then Wise should turn the matter over to the federal courts.