West Virginia lawmakers must redraw the state’s three congressional districts by Jan. 17 or a federal court will do it for them, a three-judge federal panel said Tuesday. The bombshell ruling could shakeup the 2012 election by forcing a reconfiguration of the political terrain held by Reps. Shelley Moore Capito and David McKinley, both R-W.Va, and Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va. All three are up for election this year.
The panel said in a 2-1 ruling that West Virginia’s current House districts violate the U.S. Constitution. Jefferson County Commission filed a lawsuit over the current district plans. The county said state lawmakers unconstitutionally placed several thousand more people into the 2nd Congressional District than the 1st and 3rd districts. The county also argued the 2nd covers an unnecessarily large geographic area.
Capito represents the 2nd. Mckinley represents the 1st. Rahall represents the 3rd. Spokespeople for the Capito and McKinley did not immediately comment. Unless the ruling is appealed and overturned — something that would have to be done by the U.S. Supreme Court — West Virginia lawmakers now have until Jan. 17 to propose a new plan, or the court will adopt a plan of its own, likely one based on plans rejected earlier this year by state Senate lawmakers.
The court said it is “loath to devise on our own a redistricting plan for the State of West Virginia, the 2012 congressional reelections will nevertheless be conducted under an interim plan promulgated by the court.”
The court’s order was backed by 4th Circuit Court Judge Robert King, appointed by President Bill Clinton and U.S. Southern District Court Judge Irene Berger, who was appointed by President Barack Obama.
The third member of the panel, who apparently dissented, is U.S. Northern District Court Judge John Preston Bailey, appointed by President George W. Bush.
Lawyers for West Virginia lawmakers argued that the new redistricting plan was drawn in an attempt to maintain the “core” of the current congressional districts and was therefore not unconstitutional.
The two judges seemed particularly concerned about the shape of the 2nd, which critics say was gerrymandered when it was created in 1991.
That year, the state went from four congressional districts to three because of population loss. Congressional districts are redrawn every decade to account for population changes detected by the U.S. Census. The court said that plan, creating what it called the “serpentine Second District,” already strayed far from the traditional notions of what a district should look like.