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Court rules redistricting unconstitutional

By Staff | Jan 3, 2012

A three-judge panel has just released the decision regarding a case filed by the Jefferson County Commission and two of its members as individuals seeking to show that the congressional redistricting set by the West Virginia State Legislature is unconstitutional. The court has agreed with the Commission and Patricia “Patsy” Noland and Dale Manuel.

The case, filed against Natalie Tennant as Secretary of State; Earl Ray Tomblin, as Governor, Jeffrey Kessler as Acting President of the Senate and Richard Thompson as Speaker of the House of Delegates, has ruled that the “congressional apportionment was not accomplished in conformance with the Constitution of the United States.”

The order went on to say that “The plaintiffs are therefore entitled to have the enactment declared null and void, and, in turn, to have the Secretary of State permanently enjoined from conducting West Virginia’s elections for Congress in accordance therewith.”

The case was filed stating that the action taken by the legislature left thousands of West Virginia voters were disenfranchised by the decision to keep Jefferson County in the same district as Kanawha County. Charles Town attorney Stephen Skinner, who argued the case, claimed that the redistricting plan approved last August violated the principle of one-person, one-vote. Districts are supposed to be drawn as equally as possible; however the districts adopted do not conform to that premise.

Testimony was given that showed that the lawmakers were given other options that would have made the redistricting more proportionate but chose to move ahead with the districts as adopted.

The State argued their position came from the desire to keep county boundaries, preserve the cores of extant districts and avoid a contest in the Republican primary between two incumbents. However, the court’s ruling indicates, “None of these particular concerns factored significantly into the Legislature’s decisionmaking. To the contrary, the emphasis was on preserving the status quo and making only tangential changes to the existing districts.”

The ruling went on to say that the defendants are encouraged to “Seek the enactment of an apportionment plan that satisfies the applicable constitutional mandate; or Present the Court with one or more alternative plans approved by the defendants for the Court’s consideration of an interim plan.”

The deadline of January 17 has been given for these actions; if the court is not satisfied, they will identify an interim plan for use in the 2012 congressional elections.