NEW INFO: W.Va. Redistricting Case May Tap State High Court

By: The Associated Press; WSAZ News Staff Email
By: The Associated Press; WSAZ News Staff Email

UPDATE 12/5/12 @ 4:10 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- West Virginia's Supreme Court may be asked to help resolve a pending challenge of the state's new congressional districts.

Both sides in a federal lawsuit targeting that redistricting support asking the state justices whether the new plan complies with the West Virginia Constitution. They weighed in with court filings this week.

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected arguments in September that the new map violated the U.S. Constitution.

The challenged map moved one county between two of the state's three congressional districts. Jefferson County's commission sued, seeking an alternative map. Lawyer Thornton Cooper later joined the case.

The West Virginia Constitution requires compact congressional districts formed of contiguous counties. Jefferson's district stretches across the state from the Ohio River to the Blue Ridge Mountains.

UPDATE 9/25/12 @ 11:26 a.m.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court has upheld West Virginia's congressional redistricting plan against a challenge that small population variations among its three congressional districts violate the Constitution.

The justices on Tuesday, in an unsigned opinion, reversed a lower federal court ruling that struck down the plan because of the population differences.

The high court said the West Virginia plan easily passes muster and said the population variations are too small to trigger constitutional concerns about the principle of one person, one vote.

The justices had previously blocked the ruling to allow the state to conduct elections under the congressional map that the West Virginia legislature adopted last year.

The lower court still can consider challenges to the plan under the state Constitution.

UPDATE 1/20/12
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- West Virginia can run its congressional races with the redistricting map recently struck down by a panel of federal judges.

U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts agreed to stay the judges' ruling Friday at the request of state officials.

The officials had cited the tight election timetable to urge a stay pending an appeal of the Jan. 3 decision.

West Virginia's three seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are on the ballot this year. Candidate filings for all 2012 races began last week. The primary is May 8.

The Jan. 3 ruling concluded that officials failed to justify why they drew the 2nd Congressional District to include several thousand more people than the other two.

The plaintiffs who won that 2-1 decision oppose a stay.

UPDATE 1/10/12 @ 3:45 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- A panel of federal of judges won't suspend its recent ruling against West Virginia's new congressional districts.

State officials had asked for a stay while they appeal the U.S. District Court decision. The judges turned them down Tuesday.

But the denial also lifts the Jan. 17 deadline for officials to submit a new redistricting plan.

Officials plan to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, and can also petition for a stay there.

The Legislature handles redistricting, and begins its regular session Wednesday. A proposed map that plaintiffs filed in the federal challenge is attracting attention among lawmakers.

It would provide almost exactly equal congressional districts, as the ruling requires. It would also keep the three incumbents in separate districts.

UPDATE 1/5/12 @ 10:45 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP & WSAZ) -- West Virginia officials plan to appeal the federal ruling against the state's congressional redistricting plan.

Officials announced Thursday that they will petition the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Redistricting is properly a legislative function,” said Senate President Jeff Kessler in a statement. “We believe the action taken by the West Virginia Legislature was constitutional and well considered.”

In the meantime, Kessler and other political leaders will seek an immediate stay of Tuesday's U.S. District Court decision.

In a 2-1 ruling, a panel of federal judges concluded that lawmakers failed to provide sufficiently equal districts for the state's three U.S. House of Representatives seats. The ruling sets a Jan. 17 deadline for a new plan.

The Legislature responded to the 2010 Census results by moving Mason County from the 2nd Congressional District to the 3rd.

Jefferson County's Commission challenged the redistricting plan along with Kanawha County lawyer Thornton Cooper. They argue that the U.S. and state constitutions require more equal and compact congressional districts.

Members of the Kanawha County Commission announced their support for the request for a stay.

They also criticized the idea of judges picking a map without public input.

They called on the final map to leave Kanawha County intact and in the 2nd district.

UPDATE 1/3/12 @ 10:50 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP & WSAZ) -- A federal panel of judges has voided West Virginia's congressional redistricting plan.

In a 2-1 ruling issued Tuesday, the judges gave the Legislature and the governor until Jan. 17 to come up with a new plan. If they don't, the court will impose one of its own.

The judges concluded that the state's three congressional districts aren't as equal as they should or could have been. Their ruling says the plan violates the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause.

The only change lawmakers made to the map was to switch Mason County from Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito's second district to Democrat Rep. Nick Joe Rahall's third district.

The judges felt the change did not adequately create districts of similar size and focused on protecting incumbents.

The decision came following lawsuit filed by the Jefferson County Commission. Kanawha County lawyer Thornton Cooper later joined the case.

"It's a great day for the United States Constitution," says Cooper. "Whenever the federal judiciary holds up the Constitution, that's a great day for America."

One of the main arguments Cooper and the Jefferson County Commission made was they felt was there was no need to keep Kanawha and Jefferson counties in the same district, given that they're hundreds of miles apart.

"We are pleased with the Court's decision. It stands for the principle of one person, one vote and means that the there will be no dilution of votes in the second district. It is a good day for democracy," says Stephen Skinner, attorney for the commission.

Some lawmakers defended the map the Legislature drew this summer.

"I felt that the Legislature acted responsibly. We kept the districts basically in line as they had been for the last 10 years," says Sen. Brooks McCabe (D-Kanawha).

Lawmakers have the option to appeal the decision. However, no one involved in the case has stated publicly whether that option will be pursued.

Senate President Jeff Kessler says he expects lawmakers can fix the issues within the first few days of the legislative session, which starts Wednesday. He says he doesn't see a need to call a special session to start earlier than that.

Statement from Secretary of State Natalie Tennant
Secretary of State Natalie E. Tennant said today she appreciates the prompt announcement of the decision reached by a panel of federal judges in the case challenging the West Virginia Legislature’s congressional redistricting plan.

Secretary Tennant said the prompt decision is a great benefit to potential candidates, to local election officials, and the Secretary of State’s Office.

According to the decision, lawmakers have until January 17, 2012 to complete a new congressional redistricting plan or submit proposed alternative plans as an interim plan. The West Virginia Legislature is now tasked with revisiting the issue.

The decision says if the Legislature fails to comply with one of those two conditions the court will identify a plan for use in the 2012 congressional election.

“I am confident that West Virginia can achieve equal populations in its congressional districts,” Secretary Tennant said. “The court has shown with this ruling that equal representation of all citizens in Washington is most important.”

The filing period for candidates opens on Monday, January 9, 2012 and ends at midnight on January 28, 2012. Candidates may choose to file before the final makeup of the three congressional districts are known. Candidates do not have to reside in the district for which they are running.

The Secretary of State’s Office was not part of the legislative redistricting process and accepts the determination that the process did not produce a constitutional result.

Statement from Governor Earl Ray Tomblin
“We are reviewing the Court’s order and will have further comment after we have undertaken a full analysis of the order and all of its requirements.”

UPDATE 11/23/11 @ 5:15 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Several lawsuits filed against the West Virginia redistricting plan have been denied.

According to court documents, the West Virginia Supreme Court denied the writs of mandamus and prohibition prayed for by all of the petitioners.

Justice Benjamin also noted that the he disagrees with the majority ruling, and believes that House Bill 201 does violate the West Virginia Constitution. He reserved the right to file a separate opinion.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, on September 7, signed legislation that distributes the House's 100 seats among 67 delegate districts. That's up from the current 58 districts. The new plan also increases the number of single-seat districts from 36 to 47.

The redistricting process followed the 2010 Census. The Eastern Panhandle and Morgantown areas gained population. The southern coalfields saw declines.

The new map will take effect, as scheduled before the lawsuits, with the 2012 elections.

UPDATE 10/6/11 @ 5:15 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- West Virginia officials will soon end up in court over the recent redrawing of legislative and congressional districts.

State officials have received at least four advance notices of planned lawsuits.

Kanawha County lawyer Thornton Cooper says he hoped to file his Monday. He believes the redistricting plan for the House of Delegates violates the West Virginia Constitution.

A federal lawsuit challenging the congressional plan is in the works by Jefferson County lawyer Stephen Skinner. He believes the plan does not create three equal districts as required.

Monroe County officials also object to the House of Delegates plan, and intend to file a court challenge. So do the Putnam and Mason county commissions.

State officials believe the plan passes constitutional muster. The 2010 Census prompted the redistricting.

UPDATE 9/2/11 @ 5:22 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- West Virginia's House of Delegates has a new map.

Acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin on Friday signed legislation that distributes the House's 100 seats among 67 delegate districts.

That's up from the current 58 districts. The new plan also increases the number of single-seat districts from 36 to 47.

But advocates of 100 single-seat districts oppose the plan. Democrat Thornton Cooper has already advised state officials that he will sue. GOP officials and lawmakers are also weighing a legal challenge.

The redistricting process followed the 2010 Census. The Eastern Panhandle and Morgantown areas gained population. The southern coalfields saw declines.

Friday's bill replaced one vetoed last month because of technical errors. Tomblin earlier signed state Senate and U.S. House redistricting bills.

The new maps take effect with the 2012 elections.

UPDATE 7/24/11 @ 3:30 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- As West Virginia prepares to redraw its legislative and congressional boundaries, lawmakers and residents alike are looking at what state history has to say on the topic.

Officials at the Division of Culture and History report increased interest in its relevant archives. Visitors appear particularly drawn to records of the debates that preceded each of the state's constitutions.

West Virginia ratified its first constitution in 1863, and the current one in 1872. Journals from the constitutional conventions reveal disagreements over the size of the House of Delegates and how to draw its boundaries.

These records show a chief concern was representation of counties. The ongoing redistricting process features a debate over single-seat districts in the House.

Documents from the 1960s and 1970s reflect a moving away from county-based House districts.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- Calls for 100 single-seat districts in West Virginia's House of Delegates turned into a recurring theme at a Charleston public hearing on the state's ongoing redistricting process.

A number of speakers at Wednesday's meeting of the Senate's redistricting task force advocated for single-member districts.

The forum is among a dozen scheduled by the task force around the state. It's already visited Martinsburg and Wheeling this month. It heads to Fairmont on Saturday.

More than 70 people attended the Kanawha County Courthouse hearing. Thirteen of the task force's 17 senators were on hand, as were other lawmakers.

Population shifts detailed by the 2010 Census mean changes to the state's legislative and congressional districts. Kanawha County may end up sharing one of its two-seat Senate districts with one or more neighboring counties.

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