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Mississippi Senate amends judicial...

Mississippi Senate amends judicial redistricting plan

By: Sarah Ulmer - April 11, 2024

  • An amended version of the Senate plan would leave both the Circuit and Chancery Courts with 55 judges. The legislation now heads to the House for consideration.

The Mississippi Senate has amended their plan for judicial redistricting, which is due to be completed by July 2025.

Originally, the proposal saw the loss of one judgeship for the Circuit Courts system, leaving 54 spots, and an increase of three judges in Chancery Courts, bringing the total seats to 55. However, an amendment on the Senate floor on Wednesday left both the Chancery and Circuit Courts both with 55 judges, including subdistricts.

The strike-all amendment also contains a new numbering for districts, moving the 19th Chancery District from North Mississippi to the previous 12th District while creating the 13th District out of a portion of the former 2nd District. The proposal also splits the 14th, 17th and 11th Chancery Districts into subdistricts.

For Circuit Courts, the 6thand 7th Districts were also split into subdistricts and former subdistricts in Districts 5 and 14 were dissolved and renumbered. Some of these revisions from the original bill will leave the districts as they are currently drawn.

During the initial planning process, State Senator Brice Wiggins (R), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary A Committee, said there was a goal to do away with one judge district and ensure that every district had at least two judges, while also working to line up the Circuit and Chancery counties.

In the beginning, some districts had a population as low as 40,000 persons with others as high as 200,000.

Senator Wiggins told members that in the Northeast part of the state, Monroe County went back into District 1 and Walthall County would be back in the 10th District. Other issues were addressed in the Central-Eastern part of the state where changes were made.

“The committee has spent a lot of time looking at this. The data is there,” said Senator Wiggins. “If you paid attention to what we said in committee we said there were tremendous deviations in caseloads and population. The amendment that is before you, what you will notice is that pretty much, where we tried to get was around 100,000 to 110,000 of the population in each district.”

Senator Wiggins said shifts were made largely to represent areas with a disproportionate case load. He told Magnolia tribune that there were districts with judges handling roughly 80 cases a year, with other judges handling upwards of 1,400 and 1,500 cases. To spread those caseloads, districts were slightly redrawn and judgeships were altered more evenly.

Wiggins said there is a reverse repealer in the bill which will allow lawmakers to continue working on the issue.

“Places had to move around. We crunched the data, we looked at it, this is what works,” said Senator Wiggins.

In committee, State Senator Derrick Simmons (D) questioned the decision to collapse the 4th Circuit District into District 11, resulting in the loss of four judgeships. The new strike-all amendment would remove an additional judge in the Circuit Court, reducing it to three. This change largely impacted subdistricts, which were altered in the proposal.

On the floor, Senator Simmons offered an amendment that would leave the district lines as they currently are.

“I’m quite sure if you have heard from your District Attorneys and judges, whether they are Chancellors or Circuit Court judges, they are not opposed with their current judicial districts,” said Simmons.

Both his amendment failed, Simmons said he recognized that it is the Legislature’s obligation to redistrict judicial districts and to pass a plan within the required time frame.

State Senator Hob Bryan (D) also spoke on the bill and pointed out that judges across the state seem content with how the districts are currently drawn. Bryan, who represents parts of Northeast Mississippi, said local leadership from county supervisors to community developers and lawyers have written letters asking for their judicial districts to be left alone.

“We don’t want to be saved; we want to be left in our overworked, overburdened capacity. Why on earth has there been this obsession of somehow doing something in the 1st Circuit District and 1st Chancery?” said Bryan.

Bryan said it has been two months of turmoil from judges and DA’s who don’t understand what is going on.

Senator Wiggins recognized Senator Bryan’s point that “everyone is happy,” but said it is the lawmakers’ duty to determine if the way it is being done is correct.

“While one area may be thrilled, another isn’t,” said Wiggins, noting that his own district was redrawn because of the data.

Senator Wiggins said he expects some changes to be made in the House but said overall conversations have been positive across the Capitol regarding the changes made by the Senate on Wednesday.

About the Author(s)
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Sarah Ulmer

Sarah is a Mississippi native, born and raised in Madison. She is a graduate of Mississippi State University, where she studied Communications, with an emphasis in Broadcasting and Journalism. Sarah’s experience spans multiple mediums, including extensive videography with both at home and overseas, broadcasting daily news, and hosting a live radio show. In 2017, Sarah became a member of the Capitol Press Corp in Mississippi and has faithfully covered the decisions being made by leaders on some of the most important issues facing our state. Email Sarah: