No fast action on judge's redistricting order in Mississippi

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Because more court action is possible, Mississippi lawmakers are in no hurry to redraw a state Senate district after a judge ruled that the district dilutes black voting power.

The Senate Elections Committee Chairman, Republican Kevin Blackwell of Hernando, told The Associated Press on Thursday that he's waiting to see if the state will appeal the judge's order.

Mississippi has 52 state Senate districts. Three African-American plaintiffs sued the state in July, challenging the racial composition of District 22.

The district stretches through parts of six counties, including poor and mostly black parts of the Delta into the affluent and mostly white Jackson suburbs of Madison County. It has a 51 percent black voting-age population and a white senator, Republican Buck Clarke of Hollandale, who was first elected in 2003 and is in his second term as chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee.

U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves issued an order Wednesday saying District 22 must be redrawn, and he wants to give legislators the first opportunity to do so. He said he expects to issue a detailed opinion next week.

One of the attorneys representing the state, Tommie Cardin, said Thursday that lawyers are awaiting Reeves' detailed memo before deciding whether they will ask a federal appeals court to reverse the ruling.

Reeves is giving lawmakers a chance to redraw District 22.

March 1 is candidates' qualifying deadline for statewide, regional, legislative and county offices in Mississippi. Reeves said legislators could choose to delay that deadline for District 22 and any other nearby district that might lose or gain territory in this limited round of redistricting.

State House and Senate districts are usually redrawn every 10 years to reflect population changes found in the Census. The current districts were set in 2012 and have been used since the 2015 legislative elections.

Clarke is running for state treasurer this year.

"I just hate that we're dealing with this in 2019," Clarke said Thursday at the Capitol. "We're going to have the Census next year and redraw everything. It just doesn't make sense."

Plaintiffs want the district redrawn before this year's election. Reconfiguring District 22 could affect one other district nearby.

Under one plan proposed by the plaintiffs, the Madison County precincts and some Yazoo County precincts would move from District 22 to nearby District 23, and some Warren County precincts and all of sparsely populated Issaquena County would move from 23 to 22. Madison County precincts that are in other state Senate districts would not be affected. The senator for District 23, Republican Briggs Hopson of Vicksburg, is seeking re-election.

Mississippi's population is 38 percent black. Thirteen of the 52 state Senate seats, 25 percent, are now held by African-Americans.


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