The AP reports on today's argument in the Mississippi redistricting case. It has been a while since I read the decisions below (there were four, I think), but let me see if I can summarize things.
Miss. was losing one of its 5 congressional seats. The Legislature did not pass a congressional redistricting plan. Basically the choice was over which congressman got the ax. Technically, of course, there is no residency requirement for members of Congress as to where they live within the state, but various plans would make it easier for a Democrat or a Republican to win. The Republicans filed suit in federal court -- just as you would expect of a party that preaches the virtues of state control (and the avoidance of all those problems America would have avoided if only Strom Thurmond had been elected in 1948) and has appointed most of the federal judges in Miss. The Democrats filed suit in state court -- just as you would expect of a bunch of scalawagging, federalizing, can't-park-their-bikes-straight liberals and has Democrats on the court where they filed suit.
The federal court is required under a 1990's case to defer to the state court proceedings if the state court is on track to issue a decision in sufficient time to allow a new plan to be used at the next election. So the state chancery judge (another aside: Miss. still has separate law and chancery judges) proceeded to set a schedule for a trial in January 2002. Then the federal court ruled that it would start its trial in late December if the chancery court had not issued a decree by then. So the chancery judge moved her trial date about a month earlier.
Given the tight schedules, of course, all the lawyers cooperated to move the case to trial. Oops, wrong script. The Republicans took an emergency appeal to the State Supreme Court to argue that the chancery court did not have the power to hear the case. The Miss. Supreme Court decided the chancery court did have jurisdiction to hear and decide the case.
So the chancery judge hears all the relevant and irrelevant evidence produced by all parties and adopts a plan favored by the black/Democratic plaintiffs -- a plan that would put more Democrats into the district that would have both Democratic and Republican incumbents (one of each).
Under the Voting Rights Act, nine states and parts of seven others must submit their new voting laws to the Justice Department or a special 3-judge federal court in Washington D.C. for "preclearance" before the law can become effective. The burden is on the state to demonstrate that the new law will not have the effect of decreasing the ability of blacks (or other racial/ethnic minorities) to register, vote, or elect candidates of their choice. The DOJ has 60 days to object to the new law or it becomes effective, although it can ask once for more information and start the 60-day clock again. [Remember this point. It will be on the test.]
Miss.'s AG made a submission of the chancery court plan within a week or two (as I remember it) to the Department of Justice. Since the plan had not yet been precleared by the federal court's deadline, the court said there was not yet a plan in effect, so it would start its trial. It did and adopted its own plan -- one that put more Republicans into the district with the paired congressmen. (I say "more Republicans." I mean "more people who have shown a propensity to vote for Republican candidates.")
After the federal trial and before the federal court decision, the US Attorney General asked for more information about the effect of the plan -- not its effect on blacks but on the power of the chancery court to order a plan at all. The MIss. AG resubmitted after answering the US DOJ's questions. The DOJ never issued a final preclearance letter or objection letter. So the federal court decided that there had not been preclearance and its plan would be the one used for the 2002 election. And, lo it was so.
Stay tuned for tomorrow's installment in which the Ghost of Decisions Future 'splains it all.