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Court says West Virginia can use redrawn congressional districts

By Bill Mears, CNN Supreme Court Producer
updated 12:23 PM EDT, Tue September 25, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • U.S. Supreme Court decision overturned lower court ruling on redrawn voter map
  • State officials said they would proceed with new map in time for November election
  • Issue was whether population variances in U.S. House districts were enough to violate the law

Washington (CNN) -- The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld West Virginia's redrawn congressional districts, and officials hope to have the changes in place for the November vote.

The justices said in an unsigned opinion on Tuesday that a divided three-judge federal district court panel had "misapplied the standards for evaluating" challenges to voting maps drawn by the state legislature.

The case was thrown back to the lower court, which is expected to approve the changes in time for Election Day. West Virginia officials indicated previously they would use the redrawn map if they prevailed in court.

All states are required to redo their voting boundaries following the recently completed U.S. Census. There are about 30 court cases nationally dealing with similar challenges.

The issue before the Supreme Court was whether population variances among West Virginia's three congressional districts were enough to violate the law.

Decades old Supreme Court precedent has solidified the "one person, one vote" standard to ensure equal voting districts. Precedent also requires states to make a "good faith effort" to achieve equality in voting districts, but that those districts need not be drawn with "precise mathematical equality."

The lower court concluded last January that the redrawn districts did not provide equal representation among seats for the U.S. House. The state is represented by Republicans David McKinley and Shelley Moore Capito and Democrat Nick Rahall.

The redrawn maps were used in May primaries.

West Virginia's plan was approved by large margins in the state Senate and the House of Delegates, then signed into law by Democratic Gov. Earl Tomblin.

Commissioners in Jefferson County originally sued to block the state from carrying out its plan, saying other legislative proposals would better achieve lower population variances.

West Virginia state officials told the Supreme Court in their appeal that crafting a new map would be time-consuming, expensive, and cause "irreparable harm."

But the Supreme Court's ruling signaled skepticism of the lower court's insistence on "zero variance" in population between the districts.

The redistricting process is inevitably political and partisan to some extent as the majority party in the state legislature seeks to achieve a map that will maximize its voting strengths.

The case is Tennant v. Jefferson County Commission (11-1184).

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