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W.Va. lawmakers seek OK of congressional districts

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A lawyer for West Virginia House Speaker Rick Thompson asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday to give a full review of an appeal over the state's congressional redistricting plan.

State lawmakers want the Supreme Court to reverse a U.S. District Court panel's ruling that struck down West Virginia's latest congressional district map.

Anthony Majestro, a Charleston lawyer representing the House of Delegates, filed a 31-page "jurisdictional statement" with the nation's highest court Tuesday afternoon.

"Speaker Thompson believes this is a case the Supreme Court has appellate jurisdiction over and a case that raises significant constitutional questions, which deserve a full briefing and oral arguments," Majestro said after filing the statement.

State legislators want the Supreme Court to uphold West Virginia's latest redistricting plan.

In January, the Supreme Court temporarily blocked a ruling by a three-member panel of federal judges that had rejected the state Legislature's redistricting plan.

The Supreme Court's decision allows the state to use the map in this year's U.S. House of Representatives races.

The House and Senate passed a new congressional redistricting plan last year. The map moved one county -- Mason -- from the 2nd District to the 3rd District.

The Jefferson County Commission and South Charleston lawyer Thornton Cooper challenged the redrawing. They said that the redistricting plan didn't provide equal representation under the West Virginia and U.S. constitutions, and cited a 1983 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that requires districts to have populations as equal as possible.

On Jan. 3, the U.S. District Court panel agreed, concluding that state officials failed to explain why the 2nd District had several thousand more people than the other two districts.

Lawyers for the state have defended the redistricting plan, noting that the new map had bipartisan and near unanimous support.

In his filing Tuesday, Majestro said the redistricting map doesn't split counties, doesn't require any of West Virginia's congressional incumbents to run against one another, and preserves the former districts "as much as possible."

"Prior decisions of the court have held that small variances are acceptable when, as in this case, the state justifies those variances," Majestro said. "We think the issues and questions here are important enough for a full review."

Jefferson County officials and Cooper have 30 days to file a response to Majestro's statement with the Supreme Court.

"I believe the magnitude of the variance is way too large for the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold," Cooper said Tuesday night. "I will file a response after I've had a chance to read the entire statement."

Jefferson County officials could not be reached for comment.

The Supreme Court will later decide whether to affirm the U.S. District panel's decision, reverse it or request a full briefing on the appeal.

A lawyer for Senate President Jeff Kessler also signed on to the request for the Supreme Court's review on Tuesday.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and Secretary of State Natalie Tennant joined a portion of Tuesday's appeal, which seeks to prevent the U.S. District Court from imposing its own congressional redistricting plan on the state.

Reach Eric Eyre at ericeyre@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4869.


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