CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A panel of federal judges on Tuesday voided West Virginia’s congressional redistricting plan and told the Legislature and the governor that it would impose a new blueprint if they do not come up with an alternative by Jan. 17.
In a 2-1 ruling, the judges concluded that the plan violates the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause because the state’s three congressional districts aren’t as equal as they should or could have been.
The decision contrasts with a Dec. 23 ruling by a three-judge U.S. District Court panel in Greenbelt, which ruled against a challenge brought by nine black state residents who claimed the redrawn map diluted their votes in violation of the U.S. Constitution and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
The West Virginia plan, approved by its Legislature in August in a special session, shifted Mason County from the 2nd District to the 3rd District and left the 1st District untouched.
The 2nd District’s population variance of 0.79 percent was greater than seven alternative proposals, the judges noted.
Lawyers for House Speaker Rick Thompson, D-Wayne, and Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, argued that the U.S. District Court had allowed a similar variance in upholding the state’s 1971 congressional redistricting plan.
But the judges said the state was facing relatively large population disparities after the 1970 Census that cost it a congressional seat.
“The times, as Bob Dylan once proclaimed, they are a-changing, and what once was characterized as ‘minor’ may now be considered ‘major.’ Put simply, (Senate Bill 1008) was not enacted in conformance with the Constitution,” they wrote.