Nation’s highest court upholds WV redistricting plan - Business, Government Legal News from throughout WV

Nation’s highest court upholds WV redistricting plan

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The U.S. Supreme Court ruled West Virginia's redistricting plan to be constitutional, bringing to a close a lengthy battle over congressional redistricting lines.

The Sept. 25 unsigned opinion reversed the decision of a three-judge federal panel, which voided the plan earlier this year as unconstitutional.

"Because the District Court misapplied the standard for evaluating such challenges set out in Karcher v. Daggett … and failed to afford appropriate deference to West Virginia's reasonable exercise of its political judgment, we reverse," the opinion states.

West Virginia was assigned three seats in the U.S. House of Representatives based on the 2010 census. However some people questioned how those congressional districts were designed, saying the 2nd Congressional in particular was awkwardly designed because it stretches across the state from Mason County to Jefferson County.

"It's terrible that the Eastern Panhandle has to live with this redistricting plan for the next nine or 10 years," said Stephen Skinner, an attorney representing the Jefferson County Commission. "At some point the numbers in the Eastern Panhandle will be significant enough that these kinds of issues where we're singled out for vote dilution won't happen."

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia will determine if this district is compact.

"Clearly they're far from compact if you just look at them. We are absolutely disappointed (with the decision.) It's a huge loss for the Eastern Panhandle and all the people of West Virginia. We look forward to the next step in the litigation," Skinner said.

In a unanimous vote Nov. 3, the Jefferson County Commission decided to seek legal remedy against the congressional redistricting plan that kept the Eastern Panhandle in the same district as communities along the Ohio River.

In its suit, the Jefferson County Commission argued new district boundaries violated the one-person one-vote rule because of an increased amount of population variance, lack of compactness and unnecessarily splitting the Eastern Panhandle between the 1st and 2nd congressional districts.

Anthony Majestro, an attorney representing House of Delegates Speaker Rick Thompson said he looks forward to seeing the case's conclusion.

"I'm happy that the United States Supreme Court recognized that review in courts should give deference to legislative determinations made in the course of creating redistricting plans," Majestro said.

State officials argued the Legislature has certain goals for redistricting including steering clear of incumbent competitions, keeping counties intact and maintaining the core of the district.

"I think the U.S. Supreme Court has made it clear that the flexibility is given to legislatures in Karcher to balance population variance with legitimate state redistricting objectives and it remains just as true today as it did in 1983 when Karcher was decided," Majestro said. "

According to the Sept. 25 opinion, the plan's 0.79 percent population variance was justified to meet other state objectives such as avoiding contests between incumbents and not splitting county lines.

"Despite technological advances, a variance of 0.79 percent results in no more (or less) vote dilution today than in 1983, when this court said that such a minor harm could be justified by legitimate state objectives," the opinion states. 

The Jefferson County Commission also argued there were better plans such as the "Perfect Plan" proposed by Sen. John Unger II, D-Berkeley.

Although this plan had a lower population variance, justices wrote "that appears, however, to have been the only perfect aspect of the Perfect Plan."

"State legislators expressed concern that the plan contravened the state's longstanding rule against splitting counties, placed two incumbents' residences in the same district and moved one-third of the state's population from one district to another," the opinion read.

But, the Supreme Court's opinion states that none of the alternative plans "came close to vindicating all three of the state's legitimate objectives while achieving a lower variance."

"All other plans failed to serve at least one objective as well as SB 1008 does, several were worse with respect to two objectives, and the Perfect Plan failed as to all three of the state's objectives."

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