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West Virginia's congressional district lines may be challenged again

June 08, 2013|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthewu@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — West Virginia’s congressional district lines, which were redrawn by state lawmakers in 2011 and challenged unsuccessfully in court, might be challenged again because some say the boundaries do not meet the state’s compactness requirement.

“I would still like to see the court address that,” Jefferson County Commissioner Patsy Noland said Friday.

Noland and commission President Dale Manuel led the commission’s unsuccessful legal challenge in federal court of the map drawn for the state’s three House of Representatives districts.

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected arguments in September 2012 that the new map violated the U.S. Constitution, and the case was dismissed Jan. 25.

The federal court ruling, however, did not address the argument that the 2nd Congressional District failed to meet the state’s compactness requirement. The West Virginia Constitution requires compact congressional districts formed of contiguous counties.

The 2nd District stretches across the state, from the Blue Ridge Mountains east of the Shenandoah River in Jefferson County to the Ohio River, the state’s western boundary.

Noland said she and fellow commissioners have been bombarded with other issues since the case was dismissed in federal court and haven’t decided whether to challenge the redrawn districts in state court.

“We really haven’t discussed it to see if we’re going to do anything,” Noland said.

The challenged map, which was prompted by Census 2010, moved one county between two of the state’s three congressional districts. The Jefferson County Commission sued in November 2011, seeking an alternative map.

“I’m still extremely concerned with the way they drew the lines,” Manuel said in a recent interview.

Del. Stephen Skinner, D-Jefferson, who took the lead in filing the federal case on behalf of the county before he was elected last fall to the West Virginia Legislature, said in an email that “unless there is a clear directive from the County Commission and individual clients, this is a ‘fight for another day’ situation.”

Noland said she would be interested to see how a legal challenge in state court on the compactness question would play out.

“It doesn’t matter what party controls that district,” Noland said of the challenges the elected representative would face in representing the sprawling 17-county area.

Before the case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, two of three federal judges initially appointed to hear the redistricting case advised in a memorandum opinion that identifying the geographic core of the 2nd District as drawn would prove virtually impossible, describing it as “snaking for the most part in single-county narrowness across the breadth of the state.”

The 2nd District cities of Charleston and Martinsburg, the county seats of the first and second most populated counties in the state, are about 300 miles apart by highway, the opinion also noted.

“The anomaly brings to mind the old football adage that when a team decides it has two starting quarterbacks, it more precisely has none,” the court said in the opinion.

Noland said a possible legal challenge on the compactness issue warrants discussion with fellow commissioners, Skinner and attorney David Hammer, who she said also played a big part in the case.

With the election of Jane Tabb in the 2012 general election, the makeup of the commission has changed since their federal challenge was filed, Noland said.

Tabb defeated Frances Morgan, who supported the legal challenge, Noland said.

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