This post has evolved into this more complete story: http://charlestondailymail.com/News/statehouse/201201100113
Last revised 4:57 p.m.
West Virginia lawmakers don’t have to come up with a new U.S. House redistricting plan by next week, but the state is now in a no man’s land for the 2012 congressional elections.
A three-judge federal panel on Tuesday abandoned a Jan. 17 ultimatum it had given state legislators just a week ago.
Last week’s 2-1 ruling said West Virginia’s current U.S. House redistricting plan is unconstitutional. The ruling said if state officials didn’t come up with a fix by Jan. 17, the panel would create its own alternative plan for the 2012 congressional elections.
In a Tuesday afternoon order, the panel scrapped that Jan. 17 deadline. Now, state officials have time to come up with a fix or to see if the U.S. Supreme Court overrules the three-judge panel.
But the filing period for Congress began on Monday, meaning candidates are now supposed to be filing for races in congressional districts that aren’t legally defined. The filing period closes on Jan. 28, though a court or state lawmakers could presumably change that.
“I am sure that the Secretary of State is incredibly concerned about the deadlines flying by,” said Stephen Skinner, an attorney for the Jefferson County Commission, which brought the lawsuit challenging the redistricting plan. “With the previous deadline, at least she knew that there would be closure.”
Secretary of State Natalie Tennant is the state’s chief elections officer.
State officials have not said yet what they will do next, but they were expected to make public comment sometime Tuesday evening. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, Senate President Jeff Kessler, House Speaker Rick Thompson and Tennant are all named in the suit and have been working together on the case.
State officials believe their redistricting plan is constitutional and said last week they would appeal the lower court’s ruling to the Supreme Court. But lawmakers have also prepared to lose their case and have drawn up several fixes of their own, rather than having to swallow a court-imposed plan.
The state on Friday asked the three-judge panel to “stay” its initial ruling, something that may have allowed the state to use its current map to hold congressional elections this fall. The panel refused to do that on Tuesday, and West Virginia remains prohibited from holding U.S. House elections using its current plan. That means the state will still need to convince the Supreme Court to overrule the panel, or come up with a fix the panel approves of, or the panel will impose its own maps.
Officials did not have immediate comment on what they would do following the panel’s order.
In the panel’s own words:
By our decision to further defer imposition of a remedy,the [state officials] will suffer no irreparable injury. The Supreme Court may reject their appeal, after which we expect the Stateto enact a constitutional plan. Or the Court may accept the appeal and ultimately vacate our Order, which may have the effect of reinstating [the current map]. In either event, Secretary [of State Natalie] Tennant will no doubt have endured a certain amount of aggravation and inconvenience from having to accommodate and implement a plan on relatively short notice. That injury,though unfortunate, has not been shown irreparable as of today,almost four full months prior to the primary election scheduled for May 8, 2012. As a matter of fact, the Plaintiffs haveconvincingly demonstrated to the contrary through the submissionwith their Response of two alternative plans, apparently generated by the State’s Redistricting Office within the pas tfew days.