W.Va. justices uphold redistricting plans

Associated Press State Wire: West Virginia (WV) - Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Author: The Associated Press
The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals upheld the state's legislative redistricting plans Wednesday, clearing the way for 2012 elections based on the maps drawn by the Legislature this year. 

The court issued an order rejecting five legal challenges three targeting the House of Delegates districts, two taking aim at the Senate map. Noting the need to expedite a decision, the court did not explain its reasoning but said Justice Thomas McHugh will issue a written opinion later. Justice Brent Benjamin dissented on the House plan and reserved the right to file a separate opinion, the court said. 

During oral arguments last week, some justices questioned whether the courts should meddle in a process that the West Virginia Constitution clearly delegates to the legislative branch. The court said in its order that after considering written and oral arguments, it concluded that the plans do not violate any provisions of the state constitution. 

The petitioners had claimed that some districts were not sufficiently compact and that some counties were split among too many districts. 

House Speaker Rick Thompson said he was pleased that the court acted quickly and upheld the plans' constitutionality. 

House Majority Leader Brent Boggs, chairman of the House Committee on Redistricting, also lauded the decision. 

''This court's ruling underscores what we have said all along: We followed the law and the result was a constitutionally sound redistricting plan,'' Boggs said in a written statement. 

Thornton Cooper, a Kanawha County lawyer who filed separate cases against the House and Senate plans, did not immediately return a voicemail message. 

Commissioners from Monroe, Putnam and Mason counties also challenged the House plan in a pair of petitions, and residents of Wood and Monongalia counties sued over the Senate plan. 

Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, who was a party in the cases because she is the state's chief election official, said in a telephone interview that she was especially grateful that the court acted quickly. State officials had told the court they needed a decision by Dec. 1. 

''For us, it means we can continue to move forward,'' she said. ''Those county clerks on the front line and I as chief election officer can meet those timelines and deadlines we are required to meet. County clerks can notify voters who may be affected by changes, and candidates will know what district they can run in. We have the clarity that we need.''