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Re-districting lawsuit dismissed

By Bonnie L. Jackson

News Editor

The NAACP’s  lawsuit against the Copiah County Board of Supervisor was dismissed  on May 16, 2011, by the United States Justice Department of the Southern District of Mississippi.

 The Memorandum Opinion and Order of Dismissal was handed down in the  consolidated actions filed against various county Boards of Supervisors concerning redistricting.  

According to Elise Munn, board attorney, in a letter to the Courier the court found the following:

“This included the case filed against Copiah County by the Hazlehurst Chapter of the NAACP, Shirley Sandifer and Nanette Thurmond-Smith.  These cases had been consolidated in the Southern District, Gulfport Division, before Judge Louis Guirola. Judge Guirola granted motions to dismiss and for summary judgment filed by the Attorney General and joined in by various counties, including Copiah County. “

According to Munn, “The Court found that the Plaintiffs lacked standing to bring the lawsuits due to failure to satisfy the redressability prong of the standing analysis.  Standing is a party’s right to bring a cause of action and requires a showing of an injury in fact.”

“A causal connection between the injury and the conduct complained of, and that the injury will be redressed by a favorable decision.  The Court found that it was too speculative based on time constraints with the upcoming elections that any relief the Court could grant would satisfy the complaints of Plaintiffs.  The Court further found that the claims should be dismissed on the merits.  The Court pointed out that the parties do not dispute that there is a need for the counties to redistrict based on the data from the 2010 Census.  However, the Court noted that each board of supervisors must have adequate time to formulate a re-districting plan and obtain preclearance from the Department of Justice. The Court held that the Boards of Supervisors have not had enough time to do so in order to be able to conduct an election based on new districts.  The Court noted that even counties who have made an attempt to speed through the process in order to run on the new district lines, have not yet gotten all of the elements into place to be able to do so. The Court noted previous decisions that deal with this same issue.  The courts have consistently upheld that a governmental entity must act in a reasonable fashion and be afforded sufficient time to re-district before the election cycle.  Where a governmental entity is acting in a reasonable manner and simply cannot finalize a new plan in time, it is not unconstitutional to hold elections on the existing lines.

The Court also denied the Plaintiffs’ motions to amend their complaints, finding that where there is no standing and where the allegations fail to state a claim in any event, Plaintiffs may not amend their complaint. The Plaintiffs have filed motions asking the Court to reconsider the matter.  

This ruling clears the way, absent rehearing or appellate relief, for the Copiah County Board of Supervisors to conduct an election on the existing supervisor, Justice Court and constable district lines while continuing to move forward to finalize new districts based on the 2010 Census data.  To this end, the Board of Supervisors has been working with Central Mississippi Planning & Development District, has conducted two public hearings on proposed Board of Supervisor districts, and is now formulating proposed new Justice Court and Constable districts.   The Board has also considered a Supervisor plan which was presented by the Hazlehurst Chapter of the NAACP.  The Board same rejected on the basis that the plan reduced the minority voting percentage in a district from which a minority is currently elected and also that the plan moved an incumbent from his existing district.  Additionally, because the plan proposed by the NAACP had non-detailed maps and did not identify the areas by census block, it was very difficult to determine just where the lines were intended to be in any proposed area.  

The Board continues to work on the new districts and is receptive to any public of input its citizens wish to share on same. The proposed supervisor district maps are available upon request in the Board of Supervisors’ offices in the Copiah County courthouse.

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