REDISTRICTING – PART III
Let chaos ensue, so that thy servant might prosper. (Lawyer’s prayer)
It has been said that the redistricting process, through which controversies erupt among the political parties and various political factions in every state legislature, is a lawyer’s dream. And, in states which have bicameral legislatures, where the members fail to reach agreement on the reapportionment of both houses of the legislature (in compliance with one man, one vote guidelines), the courts will surely be asked to step in and do the job for them. The same is of course true for a unicameral state legislature as well.
Such a situation occurred in Mississippi in 1991, where, according to an article dated September 1, 2009, in the North Mississippi Daily Journal, “[r]acial politics, a speaker’s race and other factors prevented the Legislature from reaching agreement. The issue ended up in federal court with the legislators running in 1991 under the old districts and again in 1992 under the new districts.”
Court action was necessary again in 2001 when Mississippi lost a congressman and the boundary lines of Mississippi’s remaining four congressional districts had to be drawn, with each having roughly the same population figures. The Democratic House of Representatives in the State Legislature, and the Republican – leaning Senate, failed to reach agreement on congressional reapportionment and the courts, once again, drew the lines. However, the Democrats in 2000 and 2001 cleverly anticipated that the Mississippi Legislators would not agree on congressional redistricting and filed their lawsuit asking for judicial reapportionment prior to the time the legislators convened to consider redistricting. The Democrats also uniquely filed their case in the friendly confines of a heavily Democratic county judicial district and asked the locally elected judge to congressionally reapportion the entire State of Mississippi, should the legislature fail to agree on reapportionment when they convened months later.
After the Mississippi Legislature convened in 2001, the House and Senate deadlocked and failed, as anticipated, to agree on the new congressional boundaries. Another lawsuit was then filed by others in a federal court, and the State’s two major political parties were each named as defendants. The federal court was also asked to redraw the congressional boundaries.
All of the judicial maneuvering in 2001 resulted in two expensive trials - one before a local state court judge and the other before a three - judge federal panel. Both cases “went the distance” – one to the United States Supreme Court and the other to the Mississippi Supreme Court. Only after this titanic struggle were Mississippi’s current congressional boundaries finally drawn.
An ironic side show to the congressional litigation in 2001 occurred when the State Legislators did agree that year on the reapportionment of the Legislative Districts of their members in both the State House of Representatives and the State Senate. Through remarkable compromises among the legislative representatives of the two political parties and the Legislative Black Caucus, the Legislators drew crazy-quilt district lines for themselves that totally ignored regional and historic boundaries or geographical communities of interest.
The end result of the efforts of the State Legislators to redistrict themselves was shocking, to put it mildly. Over 100 “split voting precincts” were created in the legislative races in the Republican–friendly State Senate and over 400 such split precincts were created in the Democratic–dominated House of Representatives. Some of these “split voting precincts” were split four ways, which means that those precincts were split or fragmented in the legislative races to require four separate ballots for four separate legislative elections to be voted on in a single precinct, depending on the fragmented voter rolls prepared for that precinct – all in the name of the one man, one vote reapportionment guidelines. The end result, of course, was voter confusion, a nightmare for election officials, and an open invitation for voter fraud.
In summary, the Mississippi Legislature in 2001(also the year of the September 11, 2001 bombing of the World Trade Center)incredibly created Legislative Districts that resulted in split precincts in no less than one-fifth (1/5) of the State’s 2000 voting precincts. Additional precinct splits occurred later when the State’s 82 Counties were also forced to “reapportion” their local government boundary lines for the county elections occurring simultaneously with the legislative races.
Mississippians have had to live with the reapportionment actions of the Mississippi Legislature in 2001, and the same forces are in positions of leadership in the Legislature as they face a reapportionment of their Legislative Districts in 2011. Will the State Legislators in Mississippi in 2011, or the state legislators in any state, make statesman–like efforts to respect historical boundaries and geographic communities of interest as they approach redistricting in 2011 and 2012? Only their barbers and hairdressers know for sure.
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