CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In an opinion issued Monday explaining why it rejected five separate challenges to House and Senate legislative redistricting plans in November, the state Supreme Court stressed that it is not a "super-Legislature" commissioned to overrule legislation on its "political, social, economic or scientific merits."
The majority opinion, written by Justice Thomas McHugh, notes that the high court has consistently declined to intervene in legislative actions, unless those actions clearly violated the state constitution.
"In the absence of a constitutional infirmity ... the development and implementation of a legislative redistricting plan in the state of West Virginia is entirely within the province of the Legislature," McHugh writes in the opinion, released Monday afternoon.
Plaintiffs in the suit argued that House and Senate leadership had unnecessarily gerrymandered districts to their benefit. One of those plaintiffs, South Charleston resident Thornton Cooper, offered alternative plans that created more-compact districts, respected county lines, and for the House, created 100 single-member districts.
However, the opinion notes that the role of the court is to determine whether the plans adopted by the Legislature meet constitutional muster, "not whether a better plan could be crafted."
"While single-member districts and adherence to county lines may arguably be preferable from a policy standpoint, this court will not engage in a revision of a legislative decision unless a constitutional infirmity exists," McHugh writes. "Simply put, our Constitution simply does not prohibit a plan containing multi-member districts."
Likewise, on the issue of gerrymandering, the opinion states, "Courts and commentators have uniformly struggled with this amorphous issue and have typically concluded that partisan gerrymanders are [justiciable] yet unsolvable."
McHugh's opinion concludes: "The role of this court is limited to a determination of whether the Legislature's actions have violated the West Virginia Constitution. ... It is the West Virginia Legislature that is charged with the responsibility for selecting among the infinite number of geographical divisions that would satisfy constitutional requirements."
When the high court issued its order in November, Justice Brent Benjamin dissented with the majority on the House of Delegates redistricting plan, and reserved the right to file a dissenting opinion. However, that dissent was not filed Monday.
Reach Phil Kabler at ph...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.