Justices stay earlier ruling on West Virginia's congressional map
January 20th, 2012
01:13 PM ET
10 years ago

Justices stay earlier ruling on West Virginia's congressional map

(CNN) - The Supreme Court has put on hold a federal judge's earlier ruling that West Virginia's new congressional boundaries were unconstitutional.

West Virginia's legislative leaders had asked the justices a week ago in an emergency filing to allow the state's new voting district map to stay in place. But the high court on Friday made no decision on the merits, ordering both sides to file more appeals. This puts everything on legal standby until the matter is fully resolved.

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By asking for further briefing on the issue, it would appear the new map crafted by the legislature will be used by default at least for this election year, since it would be unlikely the justices could tackle the issue and potentially order any changes before its term effectively ends in late June. The high court gave no indication in its one paragraph order that the state had to delay the ongoing filing and campaigning deadlines for high office, or the scheduled primary.

The state's lawmakers– backed by the state attorney general– said in their time-sensitive appeal that crafting a new map would be time-consuming, expensive, and cause "irreparable harm."

A three-judge federal panel on Jan. 3 concluded the new congressional lines did not provide equal representation among the state's three seats for the U-S House of Representatives. Republicans David McKinley and Shelley Moore Capito hold two of three congressional seats, with Democrat Nick Rahall serving the other. The lower court had given the legislature until Jan. 17 to submit an interim redistricting plan, or the panel said it would craft its own plan.

Some election analysts said the high court's intervention Friday indicated some skepticism of the lower federal court's insistence on "zero variance" in population between the three congressional districts. Decades old Supreme Court precedence has solidified the "one person, one vote" standard to ensure equal voting districts.

West Virginia's congressional redistricting plan was approved by large margins in both the state Senate and the House of Delegates, then signed into law by Democratic Gov. Earl Tomblin. It then became the first plan to be completely rejected by the courts. The legislature had already begun considering drafting a new map, while simultaneously asking for high court intervention.

The state's emergency application went first to Chief Justice John Roberts, who then asked his eight colleagues to weigh in on the request for a stay, which was granted. The state urged the high court to act quickly, since candidate filings had already started last week, even though the congressional boundaries are still in political limbo. The filing deadline is January 28. The party primaries are set for May 8. That schedule is likely to stay in place following the Supreme Court's order.

But the state may have the discretion to hold their primary at a later date as a special election; or use the existing boundaries crafted after the 2000 census; or try to adopt a new plan through the legislature. The state said each of those three options were not workable, and insisted on using the new map.

All states are required to redo their voting boundaries following the recently completed nationwide census, conducted once every 10 years.

The West Virginia dispute comes on the heels of a challenge to the map crafted by Texas legislators, which was also rejected by a special federal court. The Supreme Court issued a ruling on that boundary dispute earlier Friday, which could ultimately establish important guidelines for other states like West Virginia wrestling with their own voting district maps.

There are about 30 court cases nationwide dealing with challenges to legislative boundaries.

The high court appeal from West Virginia is Tennant v. Jefferson County Commission (11A674).

Filed under: Supreme Court • West Virginia
soundoff (8 Responses)
  1. Rudy NYC

    Despite erroneous beliefs to the contrary, lines are supposed to drawn according to the census and population density, not according to party affiliation. Lines drawn according to party affiliation ARE unconstitutional. That fact is indisputable.

    January 20, 2012 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  2. Truth and Nothing But the Truth

    It is pretty clear the leftists in this country intend to totally muck up the elections with insane court challenges like this. Redistricting is the duty of the elected STATE representatives! The federal courts should NOT be taking these cases and usurping the duties of ELECTED STATE Represntatives. It is getting clearer and clearer the federal government wants to call ALL of the shots in this country and leave NOTHING to the states.

    January 20, 2012 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |
  3. Larry in Houston

    WoW !! Are you kidding me ?? LOL what a laugh. I lived in that welfare state for 48 years, til I finally woke up, and decided to move to Texas. To be perfectly honest – I worked in manufacturing in WV for 28 years – til the plant sold – then it ended up closing / shutting down / in 2003 – then moving their facilities / machinery to another country – then that's when the best thing that ever happened to me, now I'm drawing a pension from that factory – and waiting on my S.S. (when I become of age) In the meantime, I've started a Business of my own.

    Let me say it this way – all the years I was living there, the 1960's 70's 80's 90's – the population was around 2.1 Million or so, ( For the Whole State ) NOW – it's about 1.7 Million – (google it) Does that tell you anything ?? The kids that are graduating every yr – are moving out by huge numbers, and getting Jobs where they think they have a chance.
    beautiful state – for visitation purposes – or if you like driving on country roads & high ways , but terrible for Jobs ! Unless you want to work at fast foods, or Malls)

    January 20, 2012 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  4. Fair is Fair

    "Despite erroneous beliefs to the contrary, lines are supposed to drawn according to the census and population density, not according to party affiliation."
    Well if you want to see a textbook definition of gerrymandering, just look at the People's Republic of Massachusets, especially the eastern half. The way those districts are drawn should make anyone blush. As we all know, it's the party in power that's in charge of drawing up the congressional districts. In MA, that, of course, is the democratic party.

    January 20, 2012 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  5. Rudy NYC

    Truth wrote:

    Redistricting is the duty of the elected STATE representatives! The federal courts should NOT be taking these cases and usurping the duties of ELECTED STATE Represntatives.
    When state officials violate federal laws, then the case is brought before a federal court. This is not a state's rights issue. The US Constitution spells out how districting should be performed. Some state officials feel that if they are in the majority, then that gives them the right to gerrymander districts in ways that favor their party. That is hands down illegal, and is is probably illegal for a court to draw lines without giving the opposing sides opportunity to seek a comprmise and redraw the lines for themselves.

    January 20, 2012 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  6. kit8

    If, Newt wins the Republican nomination I am getting a big bucket of pop corn to watch this comedy unfold. Here is a guy who impeached a president for the same thing he was doing at the time. Here is a guy who is onto his third wife while preaching family values. Here is a guy who is bank rolled by a billionaire. With all of these negatives he is still in front. One would think it was Easter Sunday already given where his campaign was in June and where it is now.

    January 20, 2012 02:32 pm at 2:32 pm |
  7. Jim Colyer

    Mitt Romney is the best man and also the most qualified to be president.

    January 20, 2012 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
  8. Bill

    Switching my support to Newt. Romney is a used shoe salesman, he will say what ever it takes to win.

    January 20, 2012 02:43 pm at 2:43 pm |