A plan to redraw Mississippi’s congressional map that would stretch the only majority Black district across more than 300 miles earned approval in the Mississippi House on Thursday. State representatives voted to adopt the map, known as the Magnolia 1 plan, on a mostly partisan basis 76-to-42 with most Republicans in favor and most Democrats opposed.
Republicans control both houses of the Mississippi Legislature and hold all statewide elected offices.
The proposed map would expand the length of the majority Black 2nd Congressional District by about 80 miles southward by adding Adams, Wilkinson, Franklin and Amite counties, which are currently in the 3rd Congressional District. The 2nd District includes the Delta and parts of the capital city.
U.S. House Rep. Bennie Thompson, the state’s only Black Democratic member of Congress, represents the 2nd Congressional District. Mississippi was one of just three states that lost population in the 2020 Census. But while the state overall has lost about 6,000 residents over the past decade following the 2010 Census, Thompson’s district lost around 65,000 people during the same period.
“We had to find a significant population of people to make up the 65,000 people that needed to now go into Congressional District 2 to make our districts equal and comply with all the other things that we have to comply with in drawing a new redistricting plan,” Mississippi House Speaker Pro Tempore Jason White, R-West, said on Thursday morning as he introduced the plan.
Under the new map, the voting-age population in Thompson’s district would remain about 61% Black. White said the plan “keeps the four current congressmen in their current districts,” ensuring a Democratic-lean in the 2nd Congressional District and a Republican lean in the 1st, 3rd and 4th. About 38% of Mississippians are Black, but 1st, 3rd and 4th districts would have Black voting-age populations of 26.3%, 31.8% and 21.7%, respectively.
Johnson: Plan Makes Representation ‘Impossible’
During debate, House Minority Leader Rep. Robert Johnson of Natchez offered an amendment to instead choose an NAACP redistricting plan. The alternative plan would have kept the four southern counties in the 3rd Congressional District while moving more of the Jackson metropolitan area in Hinds and Madison counties into District 2. Democrats said the goal was to create a more compact district, but the amendment failed.
The Republican plan shifts some additional Jackson precincts into Thompson’s district, but leaves the whiter sections of Northeast Jackson, Ridgeland and Madison in District 3.
In a statement on behalf of the Mississippi House Democratic Caucus Thursday, Johnson said the redistricting process “is supposed to make districts as compact as possible, and the boundaries should cross governmental and political boundaries as little as possible.”
“These objectives were not met for the map that was voted on today,” he said. “The so-called ‘Magnolia 1 plan’ adds 80 miles to Congressional District 2, creating a district that stretches from the northern tip of the state to the bottom southwest corner of the state, making it more than 300 miles long and creating a district that takes up more than 40% of the geographic area of the state.
“This map incorporates counties into CD2 that lost population, which doesn’t make any sense. If this map passes, it will make it virtually impossible for anyone to effectively and efficiently represent the second district.”
‘The Gutting of the Voting Rights Act’
The new plan also moves Marion County out of District 4 and into District 3; splits Jones County between District 3 and 4; and unites all of Clarke and Winston counties, which had each previously been split between districts, into District 3. White said on Thursday that all Mississippi districts would have a population between 740,319 and 740,321 based on the 2020 Census.
Democrats noted in their statement Thursday that this marks the first time Mississippi has redrawn its congressional districts “since the gutting of the Voting Rights Act.”
That was a reference to the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down a provision requiring federal approval of redistricting plans in southern states like Mississippi with a history of racial disenfranchisement. In both 2000 and 2010, federal courts took over the redistricting process and drew the maps. The Legislature last successfully implemented a map in 1990.
On the House floor on Thursday, White said he believes the proposed map will withstand scrutiny.
“I would say this plan meets the criteria that the joint House and Senate committee adopted as guidelines for developing the new plan. I complies with one-person-one-vote, the Constitution, all the districts are contiguous, it applies to Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, and it adheres as closely as possible to the neutral redistricting factors that have been used by the federal courts in drawing our last two plans.”