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Supreme Court upholds West Virginia Congressional map

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September 30, 2012

West Virginia

By Phil Sletten

CHARLESTON, West Virginia: The United States Supreme Court ruled that the newly redrawn Congressional districts in West Virginia were constitutional, overturning a lower court ruling. The case came before the high court after appeals by the Jefferson County Commission.[1]

The Jefferson County Commission sued the state after the state legislature overwhelmingly passed, and Governor Earl Ray Tomblin (D) signed, a redistricting bill into law that did not have equal populations between districts.[2] In the newly drawn maps, the highest population Congressional district of the three in the state was home to 4,871 more people than the lowest population district. Jefferson County commissioners sued the state, arguing that the legislature had not specified the reasons for the variation in population, especially given that other plans with closer population totals were available. One plan had only a one-person difference between district populations. A lower court of federal judges agreed with the commissioners, ruling 2-1 that the legislature could have better adhered to the "one person, one vote" goals of representation.[3][4][1]

However, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with the state government in an unsigned ruling, saying that West Virginia had "carried its burden" with the redistricting plan and critiquing the lower court's insistence on "zero variance" in population between districts.[2][3] The Supreme Court stated that "avoiding contests between incumbents and not splitting political subdivisions are valid, neutral state districting policies," and that avoiding shifting voters to new districts was an acceptable goal as well.[4]

Stephen Skinner, a lawyer for the Jefferson County Commission, told Reuters in a phone interview that, "The law until today has been crystal clear, and the Supreme Court has changed the standards. To place arbitrary county lines over mathematical certainty does not comport with truly representative government."[1] During the arguments, West Virginia state officials contended that redrawing the maps late in the election process would be time-consuming, costly, and cause "irreparable harm."[2]

The Supreme Court ruling alters fifty years of precedent. The high court told states in a 1964 ruling that districts must match populations "as nearly as is practicable" to retain Constitutionality. In a 1983 case, the court struck down a New Jersey map for having population variations of 0.70 percent from ideal. The redrawn West Virginia districts upheld by the Supreme Court have a population variation of 0.79 percent.[4] About 30 cases are in court around the country regarding similar redistricting issues.[2]

David McKinley, Shelley Moore Capito, and Nick Rahall represent West Virginia in the United States House of Representatives.

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