Federal appeals panel returns lawsuit over redistricting

AROUND MISSISSIPPI — A federal appeals panel has sent back to a Mississippi judge lawsuits challenging the failure of 11 Mississippi counties to redraw supervisor district lines in time for the 2011 election.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled since elections were held while the lawsuits were pending the issues raised by the plaintiffs may be moot, meaning there is no longer any actual controversy.

“The district court has had no opportunity to consider this case in its post-election posture,” the three-judge panel said in last Friday’s ruling.

“In an abundance of caution, and because more factual development is needed, we remand this consolidated case to the district court so that it can determine whether this controversy is moot or is live.”

In kicking the cases back to the federal court in Mississippi, the 5th Circuit panel declined to address the one-man one-vote issues raised by the plaintiffs.

In March of 2011, local branches of the NAACP filed lawsuits that sought to extend election qualifying deadlines in the counties until voting boundaries could be redrawn based on new 2010 census information.

Mississippi’s census numbers were released in February of 2011 and local officials said they needed time to redraw districts and get the new boundaries approved by the federal government.

Attorneys for the NAACP said pushing all qualifying deadlines from March 1 to June 1 would have given county supervisors more time to redraw districts. Each county has five supervisor districts.

The NAACP contends county supervisors ran in districts that were improperly apportioned, diluting the voting strength of minorities. It is unclear whether they would seek new elections or some other remedy if the court rules their way.

Lawyers for the counties argue local officials could do nothing to get lines drawn and approved within the shortened time frame they had.

Federal judges in Mississippi sided with the counties in decisions last year.

The counties involved are Hancock, Madison, Simpson, Amite, Wayne, Claiborne, Adams, Copiah, Warren, Tunica and Tallahatchie.

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