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State Redistricting Goes Before 3-Judge Federal

Panel Last Friday Federal Lawsuit Was Filed By The NAACP

Ron Williams

by Ron Williams

District 37 State Representative Gary Chism (R-Columbus) attended the federal lawsuit hearing held last Friday in Jackson on the state’s redistricting plans. A 3-Judge federal panel had assembled after the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) filed suit after House Speaker Billy McCoy refused to compromise with the Senate after the Legislative body turned down the House plan. (Both chambers had agreed on a Senate-drafted map during the regular session, but the Democrat-led House later submitted a plan the Republican-led Senate refused. Lt. Governor Phil Bryant tried to offer McCoy a chance to negotiate, but McCoy wasn’t having it.

Chism said he was among about 30 legislators who attended the hearing (he said normally such a hearing would have been closed) as well as lobbyists and lawyers. While speaking with me about what took place at the hearing, Chism also refered to an article written in Saturday’s Clarion Ledger by reporter Molly Parker. Though it wasn’t actually a hearing, according to Parker…it was a ‘status conference’. Parker said that three primary options were presented to the court. They were: 1. Have legislative candidates run under the current districts and take up redistricting in 2012…as advocated and favored by Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann (Hosemann based his opinion on the state Constitution saying that the process can take place the 2nd year after the census is completed to take up redistricting). 2. Approve on an interim basis the redistricting maps created by each chamber that went part way through the legislative process, a position supported largely by Democrat-led groups. 3. Appoint an expert to draw new House and Senate districts from scratch as the Mississippi Republican Party and Gov. Haley Barbour want.

Both Parker reported and Chism confirmed that most every lawyer making presentations Friday expressed a desire to avoid the cost and hassle of back-to-back legislative elections that happened in the early 1990’s. Parker reported that even Attorney General Jim Hood said, “The people of Mississippi want fair elections. They only want us running one time.” Parker noted that few or any options could guarantee such a scenario as wished by Hood.

But, as she also noted, “the clock is ticking…qualifying deadline for legislative candidates is June 1st and primaries are set for August 2nd.” The suit filed by the NAACP asked the federal judges to forbid legislative candidates from running under current lines saying that it violates the one-man, one-vote principle. (Many areas have lost massive population…like the Delta which lost around 44,000 people yet loses no seats under the House plan. Other areas like Desoto County gained thousands).

Parker reported that NAACP attorney Carroll Rhodes told 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Grady Jolly that his clients seek “declaratory judgment the districts are unconstitutional and malapportioned” because of population shifts. “Everybody agrees on that,” stated Jolly. Jolly went on to ask the court to order Hood to submit the partially approved House and Senate plans to the Justice Department for immediate review.

Chism says that the state has 40-42 majority black districts that must be drawn first. That would leave 80 districts that would be majority white districts. With a census-backed number proposing about 24,300 in each district for a differential of 1%, more or less. Chism says if the plan is adopted where the districts would be drawn from scratch after the 40-42 majority black districts, the expert drawing them would then start in the northeast corner of the state and and come across…back and forth…untill all districts are drawn proportionate to population (with the 40-42 majority black districts already drawn, the 80 or so remaining would obviously be majority white which, historically speaking, would favor Republicans) and could likely lead to a majority-elected House being Republicans. Thus this plan, if adopted and appears to be the fairest of the three, could backfire plans by the NAACP and Democrats (which would clearly backfire on McCoy as well).       Such a scenario could possibly put Representative Jeff Smith and Chism in the same district, or Smith and Representative Esther Harrison in the same district, or even Chism and Harrison in the same one. It’s not known, but it could work out that way. Chism, though noting it would likely elect more Republicans under such a radical plan, also noted it, “might not be us that gets elected…but i’m convinced more Republicans will be elected.”

In fact, attorney Mike Wallace, representing The Mississippi Republican Party and Gov. Haley Barbour, asked the federal judges to simply follow the law (in dealing with fairness in redrawing lines). Wallace said, “state policies are to draw boxes with equal populations and break as few lines as you can get away with. That law is not a Republican plot. It is the law of Mississippi, and it’s simple for this court to follow.” The Republican party argues that the House plan unfairly packs Republicans into districts to purposely dilute their voting strength, a charge Democrat map makers have denied.

While federal law allows for a 10% deviation swing among the number of people per district, it is illegal to leverage that allowance to discriminate against any particular group, Parker noted in her article.

Representative Chism said that Judge Jolly asked Wallace how the Republican Party would react if the panel ordered the lawmaker-drafted, but unpassed plans be submitted to the Justice Department for pre-clearance. “You get a lawsuit,” Wallace answered. Chism said that Wallace also said challenges that it would take too long to appoint an expert to draw new maps are without basis.

CVB Board Meets

Commercial Dispatch reporter Garthia Elena Burnett wrote a really good article on the latest meeting of the CVB (which I didn’t attend because of no knowledge of the meeting beforehand. The Packet has asked the CVB to notify us of their meetings schedule, but they have failed to do so. RW).

In her article, Burnett noted that the CVB board is “being more careful with it’s budget dollars, requesting line-by-line budgets from those requesting funding for festivals and other special events” (which are suggestions previously suggested by former Packet owner Roger Larsen, The Packet and I believe I saw a Dispatch opinion piece asking for the same scrutiny in CVB funding requests. RW)

If the CVB board indeed adopts these procedures (as it appears in Burnett’s article they will do so), then all the hoopla surrounding the supervisor and city council concerns of late last year and early this year of the CVB board (and the re-mantling of) will be worth all the trouble.

Judge Scott Colom Presides Over First Court Cases This Past Tuesday

Newly appointed Justice Court Judge Scott Colom presided over his first court cases this past Tuesday. Colom is the first black justice court judge to serve in Lowndes County. He was appointed by the Lowndes County Board of Supervisors in March to fill the unexpired term of Mike Arledge, who stepped down to run for sheriff.

I sat-in on the afternoon court session Tuesday (the judges usually take pleas in the morning session of court, saving the contested charges till after lunch). And I have to say…one couldn’t tell that this was Judge Colom’s first cases. He presided over cases like a seasoned veteran of the bench! It was quite impressive! The most impressive thing about Judge Colom is his ability to take charge – and to cut to the chase – in weeding out the irrelevant testimony of witnesses and defendants in cases, which moves the court process along in a more efficient manner. The young judge moved quickly through cases allowing facts to be heard, but not allowing the testimony to be bogged down by would-be side-swiping witnesses and defendants. For example: When an accused charged with domestic violence tried to voice his displeasure with an arresting officer on how the officer treated him during arrest, asserting he was ‘roughed-up’, Judge Colom quickly cut him off telling him it wasn’t relevant to the domestic violence charge at issue in the case. “I know you’re not a lawyer” Judge Colom told the accused, “but this is your opportunity to ask questions, not make accusations against the officer…that’s a civil matter not related to this charge.” (that type of quick-witted, take-charge attitude and procedure by a judge is usually reserved for a long-seasoned sitting judge…not a judge hearing his first cases. RW).

Another accused charged and found guilty of possession of marijuana in a vehicle, in which three were originally charged and one took the responsibility of the marijuana (he reportedly told the arresting officer that he wasn’t aware that marijuana was in the vehicle but that they had “smoked it all up”. RW) Judge Colom fined and put on probation but asked him if he had a job. The young man answered that he made, “$50 a week playing music in his church”. “How can you pay this fine making just $50 a week”, the judge asked, then making a stipulation of his probation that he visit the WIN Job Center to find employment. “You’re too old to be living with your parents and not have a job” Judge Colom told him.

After all the case were heard, retiring County Prosecutor Tim Hudson was pretty impressed with Judge Colom himself. “He sure didn’t act like someone hearing his first cases” said Hudson. “That was impressive” he added. Allison Pritchard Kizer, a visiting attorney who also happens to be a candidate trying to succeed Hudson, was somewhat shocked herself, “You mean that was the first cases he’s presided over?” she asked in obvious amazement.

When I spoke with Judge Colom afterwards, he was equally complimentary of Hudson. “Tim can ask the right questions that helps move the process along”, he said.

Ron Williams can be reached by email at Ronsings2you@aol.com

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