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Senate Democrats to join suit

JACKSON (AP) — The Senate Democratic Caucus voted Thursday to join a lawsuit that a civil rights group filed over Mississippi redistricting.

“We felt like we needed a seat at the table to protect our interests,” the caucus chairman, Sen. Bob Dearing of Natchez, said shortly after the vote to hire an attorney.

“No one wants the courts to draw our districts.”

The state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People sued in U.S. District Court on March 17, seeking to block this year’s elections using the existing boundaries in the 122 state House districts and 52 state Senate districts.

The lawsuit 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 House Elections Committee voted last week to join the lawsuit.

Lawmakers have been unable to agree on new redistricting maps to reflect population changes revealed by the 2010 Census. The changes include growth in relatively affluent DeSoto County, just south of Memphis, Tenn., and population losses in the economically struggling Delta.

The talks collapsed after Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant chose not to maintain a decades-old tradition of each chamber rubber stamping the other’s redistricting map.

The House passed the Senate’s map without changes.

The Senate rejected the House’s map and sought negotiations on it. House Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi, refused to appoint House negotiators. Both maps are in limbo because they’re in the same resolution.

Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, has accused Bryant of blocking progress on redistricting. Bryan filed a resolution last week to try to revive the redistricting process. But the lieutenant governor said he didn’t think Bryan’s resolution was necessary because the original House and Senate plans are still alive and awaiting compromise talks.

“If there was a way for the Senate to vote, they would vote on a modified House plan,” Bryan said Thursday. “The lieutenant governor’s road blocks are everywhere.”

The state constitution requires legislators to handle redistricting through resolutions, which don’t go to the governor to be signed or vetoed.

The lieutenant governor couldn’t be reached immediately Thursday for comment.

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