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Sam Heldman


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Monday, December 09, 2002
No. 01-1437 Branch v. Smith

No. 01-1596 Smith v. Branch

The reason I got into this whole Supreme Court prediction game was so that I would have at least a marginally-informed opinion about every case that came before the Court this term. Try as I might, however, I just can't get into this congresssional redistricting case. As I understand it (and I don't really) state legislatures are supposed to redraw their districts after each census. In this case, Mississippi failed to do so. Why? I have no clue, but I would be at least mildly upset at my state legislature if I were a Mississippian. In any case, the failure of the state legislature means people get to battle it out in court. Which people?

Apparantly, a group of voters on one hand, and on the other hand, another group of voters. Anyway, congressional redistricting plans in southern states also involve some sort of review by DOJ to make sure they are avoiding discrimination. So what happened here was that a Mississippi state court took jurisdiction and issued a plan, but then somehow it got to federal court, and the district court stayed the implementation of the state court plan and the people who like the state plan appealed.

There are about ten thousand questions presented (okay I admit its only four), including whether state courts can ever take jurisdiction over redistricting in a case like this, due to the constitutional provision giving state legislatures the power to determine the time and manner of elections, whether the Attorney General have to preclear a redistricting plan that a state court enacts (like it would for state legislatures, I guess); whether the AG "preclears" a plan if it is submitted and not acted on within the statutory time limit, and another one that I can make neither head nor tail of.

I know that both of my readers who come here for in-depth legal analysis are disappointed at this and the Washington/Legal/Foundation2 case, and for that I apologize. Something I read today that has nothing to do with this case attracts me to the argument that the state legislature has to act somehow, although I am also partial to the argument that DOJ can't just sit on a plan that has been submitted for preclearance. I am going to predict . . . scratch that, I'm going to guess that the Court will AFFIRM this case. I just assume the reverse case will come down the other way and be REVERSED.