Mississippi Redistricting Cases:  the 1990s

Watkins v. Mabus771 F.Supp. 789 (S.D. Miss. 1991), aff'd, 502 U.S. 954
(1991) (mem.)

Mississippi faced regular quadrennial elections in 1991. Its 1982 districting plan clearly violated the one-person, one-vote rule. During its 1991 session, the Legislature drew a new plan and submitted it to the U.S. Justice Department for "pre-clearance" under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Dissatisfied with the Legislature's proposed plan, Black legislators and civil rights activists brought suit under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, asking a three-judge federal court to enjoin elections and either adopt their alternate plan or draw its own plan. After this action commenced, the U.S. Justice Department rejected the Legislature's 1991 plan.

The Court strongly believed that the Legislature should draw the final redistricting plan and stated this several times from the bench. It considered several other plans, including the Legislature's attempt to address the Justice Department's objections. The Court scheduled a series of status conferences in an attempt to force a settlement. It found that all proposed plans contained "a large number of significantly non-compact districts," and "little-disguised political 'landmines.'"  Facing an exceptional expedited schedule, "untenable options," and, noting "the troubling political winds that have unfailingly roared through the courtroom at every turn of this litigation," the Court rejected the newer legislatively drawn redistricting plan, rejected the plaintiffs' plan, and abandoned any prospect of a settlement or of drawing its own plan.

In reaching its decision, the Court stated its belief that elections should go forward as scheduled. It found it was not required to adopt an interim plan, which would pass constitutional muster. The Court ordered the state to hold its regularly-scheduled 1991 elections on the 1982 districting plan as an interim remedy, and signaled its intent to order elections in 1992 for a three-year term.

Watkins v. Fordice791 F.Supp. 646 (S.D. Miss. 1992)

Having run for office in 1991 in the 1982 districts, the 1992 Legislature prepared redistricting plans that addressed the Justice Department's objections to the 1991 plans. The Court suspended its preparation for drawing a plan and continued holding status conferences related to scheduling of elections in 1992. When the Justice Department approved the new plans after forcing a minor amendment to the Senate plan, the Court ordered a legislative election for a three-year term, to coincide with the Presidential election in 1992, and with primary elections scheduled consistently with Mississippi law.

Watkins v. Fordice807 F.Supp. 406 (S.D. Miss. 1992)

The three-judge Court stated that whether plaintiffs had prevailed in the litigation was "a close question," given that plaintiffs received none of the relief they requested and the Legislature's redistricting decisions were in response to the Justice Department. Nevertheless, the Court ruled that plaintiffs had prevailed since the litigation had likely influenced the Legislature's deliberations.  In determining the award, the Court found arithmetic errors and other anomalies in plaintiffs' attorneys' time records. For example, the lead attorney had billed more than 24 hours for several days, had billed for activities unrelated to the suit, and had performed such tasks as photocopying at his regular hourly rate. The Court awarded less than one-fourth of the $866,938 fee requested.


State Contact

Steve Miller
Staff Counsel
Standing Joint Legislative Committee on Reapportionment
P.O. Box 1204
Jackson, MS 39205
601/359-1458 voice
601/359-1420 fax
steve.miller@peer.state.ms.us