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Redistricting suit goes to new judge

JACKSON (AP) — Mississippi lawmakers show no signs of resolving their redistricting fight before the scheduled end of their session in a few days, but there was a significant development Wednesday in a related court case.

U.S. District Judge Dan Jordan removed himself from a legislative redistricting lawsuit filed by the Mississippi chapter of the NAACP because Jordan learned that one of his relatives is running for the Legislature and as a result could be affected by any court decision on the matter.

The case was reassigned to U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves, who was a lawyer for Democrats in Mississippi congressional redistricting court cases after the 2000 Census. Reeves was confirmed to the federal bench in December.

The current redistricting lawsuit was filed by the state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. It seeks to block elections this year using the existing boundaries in the 122 state House districts and 52 state Senate districts. The suit argues that the current districts — which have been used for the past decade — are unbalanced by population and violate the one-person, one-vote principle.

The three-month legislative session is scheduled to end Saturday. It’s unclear whether lawmakers will extend the session to finish big issues such as the budget and redistricting. Republican Gov. Haley Barbour could call a special session for unfinished business.

The new legislative districts will be drawn, by lawmakers or by the courts, to reflect changes revealed by the 2010 Census. These include growth in relatively affluent DeSoto County, just south of Memphis, Tenn., and population losses in the economically struggling Delta.

For decades, each chamber in the Mississippi Legislature drew its own map and the other chamber rubber-stamped it. Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant said he doesn’t want to do that this year.

Bryant also told The Associated Press on Wednesday that he’s not worried about ending the 2011 session with redistricting still in limbo.

“Oh, I’m not,” Bryant said.

He pointed out that the state constitution says the Legislature should handle redistricting “in the second year following the 1980 decennial census and every 10 years thereafter.” Bryant said he interprets the constitution to say redistricting should be done in 2012, which would mean two legislative elections for the coming four-year term: One this year in the old districts and one in 2012 in new ones.

Both chambers this session have passed a Senate plan drawn by the Republican-controlled Senate. The Democratic-controlled House has passed its own plan, but the Senate rejected the House map. Both maps are in limbo because they’re in a single resolution.

Democratic House Speaker Billy McCoy said Wednesday he blames Bryant for stalling redistricting.

“It’s a shame and a disgrace not to have a redistricting plan for the members and most important the citizens to be assured of what’s going to happen,” McCoy said.

Bryant appointed three senators as redistricting negotiators. McCoy said he will not appoint negotiators because he believes the Senate should accept the House plan. The House Elections Committee voted last week to join the NAACP in the federal lawsuit.

The constitution requires lawmakers to handle redistricting through resolutions rather than bills, and resolutions don’t go to the governor to be approved or vetoed. Barbour said Wednesday he’s not worried about the possibility of lawmakers ending their regular session with redistricting unresolved.

“It’s better for them to have an appropriate plan than to meet some artificial deadline,“ Barbour said.

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