Attorney Waverly Harkins takes a cell phone photograph of the expanded view of newly proposed congressional boundaries between Hinds and Madison counties following a meeting of the Joint Congressional Redistricting and Legislative Reapportionment Committees at the Capitol in Jackson, Miss., Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

For the first time since the early 1990s, the federal courts will not be drawing Mississippi’s congressional districts.

Earlier this week, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear a case filed by a group of Black Mississippians alleging the current drawing of the four congressional districts was unconstitutional because it diluted minority voting strength. That Supreme Court decision ensured that the task of drawing congressional districts would be left to the state Legislature instead of the federal courts.

The lawsuit was filed after the Republican-led Mississippi Legislature drew the districts in the 2022 session. A three-judge federal panel had drawn the districts after the 2000 and 2010 censuses. Political districts, such as U.S. House districts and state legislative districts, normally have to be drawn after each census to adhere to populations shifts.

READ MORE: Lawmakers face redistricting lawsuit as 2023 session and election cycle start

The NAACP and other groups alleged that the districts drawn and approved by the GOP-led Mississippi Legislature in the 2022 session were unconstitutional. A three-judge panel ruled against the group making that allegation.

That case was then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. But the nation’s highest court dismissed the case, leaving the four districts drawn by the Legislature intact.

Among other things, the plaintiffs said that the districts drawn by the Mississippi Legislature placed more Black residents in the 2nd District than needed to elect an African American House member. By “packing” more African Americans in the 2nd District, plaintiffs argued, white lawmakers diluted their voting strength in other districts.

READ MORE: Civil rights attorney signals possible lawsuit over new legislative districts that dilute Black votes

Under the plan approved by the Legislature, District 2, the state’s only Black majority district, runs nearly the entire length of the state with Adams, Amite, Franklin and Walthall counties in southwest Mississippi being added to the district. The new district extends from Tunica in northwest Mississippi to the Louisiana-Mississippi border in southwest Mississippi. The only county that borders the Mississippi River not in the district is heavily Republican DeSoto County.

District 2 is the only one of the state’s four congressional districts to lose population since 2010 — more than 9% or about 65,000 people, according to the 2020 U.S. Census.

District 2 incumbent Rep. Bennie Thompson, the state’s lone African American and Democratic member of the congressional delegation, supported a proposal of the NAACP to make District 2 more compact with a smaller Black majority than in the legislative plan. The NAACP argued under its plan an African American candidate could still be elected in the 2nd District while allowing Black voters to have more of an impact in other districts in the state.

The three-judge panel initially drew a congressional map for the state after the 2000 U.S. Census when the Legislature could not agree on a redistricting plan. The state lost a congressional district based on the results of the 2000 Census because of slow population growth.

Then in 2011, the three-judge panel redrew the districts to adhere to population shifts found by the 2010 Census after the Legislature again was again unable to agree on a congressional map.

The Legislature did agree on a plan after the 2020 Census, but it was opposed by all African American state legislators.

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Bobby Harrison, Mississippi Today’s senior capitol reporter, covers politics, government and the Mississippi State Legislature. He also writes a weekly news analysis which is co-published in newspapers statewide. A native of Laurel, Bobby joined our team June 2018 after working for the North Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo since 1984. He is president of the Mississippi Capitol Press Corps Association and works with the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute to organize press luncheons. Bobby has a bachelor's in American Studies from the University of Southern Mississippi and has received multiple awards from the Mississippi Press Association, including the Bill Minor Best Investigative/In-depth Reporting and Best Commentary Column.