September 15, 2012 10:19:56 PM
JACKSON -- The U.S. Justice Department said Friday that it has approved Mississippi's legislative redistricting plans, but that doesn't prevent anyone from suing to try to block the maps from being used.
The 122 House districts and 52 Senate districts had to be redrawn to reflect population shifts revealed by the 2010 Census.
Lawmakers approved new plans in the spring. Because of Mississippi's history of racial discrimination, Section 5 of 1965 Voting Rights Act requires the state to get federal approval for any changes to its election laws or systems. The Justice Department checks to ensure that the maps don't dilute minority voting strength.
"The Attorney General does not interpose any objection to the specified changes. However, we note that Section 5 expressly provides that the failure of the Attorney General to object does not bar subsequent litigation to enjoin enforcement of the changes," Assistant U.S. Attorney General Thomas E. Perez wrote to legislative leaders.
Several Democrats have said they thought they were treated unfairly in the plans drawn by leaders of the two Republican-controlled chambers.
Republican Rep. Bill Denny of Jackson, who led the House redistricting effort, told The Associated Press on Friday that he worked closely with attorneys and professors who are experts in redistricting. Denny said the districts met the required standards: They're compact, they uphold communities with common interests and they don't weaken black voting strength.
"Of course, anybody could take it to court, but for what reason?" Denny said. "It's been vetted well enough to understand we're not in violation of the Voting Rights Act."
Jackson attorney Dorsey Carson, a Democrat who ran unsuccessfully against Denny in 2011, sent a letter to the Justice Department on Sept. 5, asking it to reject the redistricting plans. Carson said rural and black voting power would be weakened in several House and Senate districts. He posted a sarcastic criticism to Facebook on Friday: "The most racially segregated Legislative map in Mississippi history has been approved by DOJ: welcome to a new decade of racial polarization!"
Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, the Senate's presiding officer, said he's pleased about the Justice Department approval.
"The plan drawn by our redistricting committee received overwhelming bipartisan support from the Senate because it was fair and representative of the entire state," Reeves said in a statement.
Mississippi's population is 37 percent black, and its voting-age population is 35 percent black.
The Republican-controlled Senate approved its map on a 46-5 vote May 2, with one Democrat absent. The map has 15 majority-black Senate districts, or 29 percent.
When federal judges drew the Senate map a decade ago, it had 12 majority-black seats, or 23 percent. Between 2000 and 2010, population changes resulted in one more district becoming majority black, bringing the total to 13 seats, or 25 percent, as legislators embarked on drawing new maps.