CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday blocked a ruling by a panel of federal judges that had struck down West Virginia's congressional redistricting plan, allowing the state to rely on that map in this year's U.S. House of Representatives races.
The justices granted a stay sought by state officials pending an appeal of the Jan. 3 decision. Their petition had cited West Virginia's tight, ongoing election calendar. Among other deadlines, the candidate filing period ends Jan. 28 and the primary is May 8.
Those officials included Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, West Virginia's election chief.
"This decision gives us clear direction for the 2012 election cycle, meaning the candidate filing period and election procedural timeline are in place and will not have to be changed," Tennant said in a statement.
The eventual appeal will come from two of the other petitioning officials, House Speaker Rick Thompson and Senate President Jeff Kessler. They have said they will challenge the Jan. 3 finding that the Legislature-approved redistricting map is unconstitutional, and that ruling's mandate for a new plan.
The House and Senate passed the map with bipartisan and nearly unanimous votes. Kessler said Friday the U.S. Supreme Court appeal should be filed in about a month.
The Marshall County Democrat also noted that while officials had petitioned Chief Justice John Roberts for the stay, the entire court considered the request.
"That tells me there's a significant likelihood that the permanent relief that would be requested would be granted," said Kessler, a lawyer.
The Jefferson County Commission challenged that redrawing, and was joined by Kanawha County lawyer Thornton Cooper. A lawyer for the commission, Stephen Skinner, disagreed with Kessler's reading of Friday's action but also expressed disappointment with the stay.
"This means the Legislature is going to drag this out," Skinner said. "We're going to be dealing with this for a long time."
Skinner also said he expects the West Virginia appeal to attract several interest groups seeking to weigh in on the case, given its potential effect on the redistricting process.
"I'm sorry that the legislative leadership doesn't want to follow the one-person, one-vote rule," Skinner said, adding, "We absolutely look forward to appearing before the U.S. Supreme Court."
Anthony Majestro, Thompson's lawyer in the case, agreed that it should attract major interest. He also said that Friday's stay allows West Virginia to avoid a fifth special election in less than two years. The state held two sets of special primary and general elections - in 2010, after the death of U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, and last year, after now-U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin resigned as governor upon winning Byrd's seat.