JACKSON — Mississippi lawmakers are going to federal court to oppose a lawsuit the state NAACP filed over redistricting.
The suit seeks to block new state House and Senate districts that were drawn by lawmakers earlier this year and approved by the U.S. Justice Department in September.
The suit by the state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People also asks federal judges to draw new districts and to set a new round of legislative elections before the regular vote in 2015.
Members of the House and Senate redistricting committees met briefly yesterday and voted to intervene in the lawsuit to try to block it.
Republican Bill Denny of Jackson, the House redistricting chairman, said new elections would be “costly, for no reason.”
The 122 House districts and 52 Senate districts have to be redrawn each decade to reflect population changes.
In early 2011, when Democrats controlled the House and Republicans controlled the Senate, the two chambers could not agree on redistricting plans. Federal judges ordered legislative candidates to run in the November 2011 elections under outdated districts that were approved after the 2000 Census.
Some parts of the state saw rapid growth from 2000 to 2010, including heavily Republican DeSoto County just south of Memphis, Tenn. Other parts of the state, including predominantly Democratic parts of the Delta, lost population. That meant some lawmakers were representing many more people than others.
In November 2011, Republicans won control of the House and retained control of the Senate for the four-year term that started this past January. The two chambers agreed on redistricting plans in the spring.
Because of Mississippi’s history of racial discrimination, the state is required to get federal approval for any changes in voting laws or processes. The Justice Department approved the redistricting plans in mid-September but noted that its approval would not block any person or group from filing further challenges of the districts.
The NAACP filed suit earlier this month, saying lawmakers ignored opportunities to draw enough majority-black districts in areas where it was possible.
The only black lawmaker who attended the redistricting hearing yesterday, Democratic Sen. Hillman Frazier of Jackson, was also the only lawmaker who voted against going to court to oppose the NAACP lawsuit.
Frazier said after the meeting that he thinks the state should hold new elections.
“The districts we ran under were malapportioned and it’s very unfair to the rest of the state to serve for the remainder of this term under malapportioned districts,” Frazier said. “I’m in favor at this point in running in new, properly approved districts. I think the citizens of this state deserve us serving in properly apportioned districts at this time. All votes should be weighted equally.”
Frazier said he has no problem running in the new districts approved by the Legislature and the Justice Department. Frazier voted for the Senate map, saying he found it fair. Like many other black lawmakers, he voted against the House map after black leaders in the House said the plan had too few majority-black districts.
Denny said the House and Senate redistricting committees are defending the maps they drew because that’s their job.
“It’s our plan,” Denny said. “We don’t have anyone else to talk about it but us.”
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