A full, updated version of this story is here: http://www.charlestondailymail.com/News/breakingnews/201209250052
The West Virginia Legislature’s modest redesign of the state’s three congressional districts in 2011 is constitutional, the U.S. Supreme Court said Tuesday.
The court reversed a January lower court ruling that threatened to upend an incumbent-friendly redistricting map. In an unsigned opinion, the nation’s high court has essentially ended more than a year of debate over redistricting.
The ruling has little affect other than to silence doubt. This year’s congressional elections are proceeding according to the 2011 maps, which did little to reconfigure the political terrain held by Reps. Shelley Moore Capito and David McKinley, both R-W.Va, and Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va. All three are up for election this year.
However, the Supreme Court did reverse a three-judge panel’s bombshell ruling in January. That ruling threatened to force future changes to the redistricting maps.The panel said in a 2-1 ruling that the current maps, drawn up by the Legislature in August 2011, violated the U.S. Constitution, which requires congressional districts be drawn as equally as practicable. The suit was brought by Eastern Panhandle lawyer Stephen Skinner on behalf of the Jefferson County Commission.
But the Supreme Court on Tuesday disagreed with the panel’s assessment. The court said the state could draw somewhat unequal districts because the Legislature has a legitimate interested in avoiding contests between incumbents and not dividing counties.
The Supreme Court also took a dig at Senate Majority Leader John Unger, D-Berkeley, who long favored shaking up the congressional maps to free the Eastern Panhandle of its connection to Charleston. He has said the panhandle’s needs were being drowned out because of interests in the populous Charleston and the Kanawha Valley. Capito represents both the panhandle and the Kanawha Valley. Unger, in turn, offered up a “perfect plan” that had a small population deviation.
“That appears, however, to have been the only perfect aspect of the Perfect Plan,” the Supreme Court said. “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.”
There appears to be one outstanding issue of state law before the case is totally finished. State law wants districts to be compact. That issue could be litigated further.