Justices Revive West Virginia Redistricting

     WASHINGTON (CN) – West Virginia can use a congressional redistricting plan that a federal judge voided for implementing a population variance, the Supreme Court ruled.
     West Virginia adopted a redis­tricting plan after the 2010 U.S. Census revealed popula­tion shifts within the state, but did not alter the alloca­tion of three congressional seats.
     In August 2011, state lawmakers considered several plans and ultimately adopted one titled S.B. 1008, which Gov. Earl Tomblin signed into law that same month.
     “S. B. 1008 … does not split county lines, redistrict incum­bents into the same district, or require dramatic shifts in the population of the current districts,” the Supreme Court found. “Indeed, S. B. 1008’s chief selling point was that it required very little change to the existing districts: It moved just one county, representing 1.5% of the state’s population, from one district to another. This was the smallest shift of any plan considered by the Legislature. S. B. 1008, however, has a population variance of 0.79%, the second highest variance of the plans the legislature considered. That is, the popu­lation difference between the largest and smallest districts in S. B. 1008 equals 0.79% of the population of the average district.”
     When the Jefferson County Commission and two of its members filed suit, a federal judge granted an injunction after finding that the state failed to support its population variances.
     The Supreme Court said Tuesday that this decision “failed to afford appro­priate deference to West Virginia’s reasonable exercise of its political judgment.”
     “If a state wishes to maintain whole counties, it will inevitably have population variations between districts reflecting the fact that its districts are composed of unevenly populated counties,” the unsigned opinion states. “Despite technological advances, a variance of 0.79% results in no more (or less) vote dilu­tion today than in 1983, when this court said that such a minor harm could be justified by legitimate state objectives.”
     The court found that the adopted plan has many compelling attributes.
     S. B. 1008 achieves significantly lower population shiftsthan the alternative plans-more than four times lower than the closest alternative, and more than 25 times lower than others.
     “None of the alternative plans came close to vindicating all three of the state’s legitimate objectives while achiev­ing a lower variance,” the decision states. “All other plans failed to serve at least one objective as well as S. B. 1008 does; several were worse with respect to two objectives; and the Perfect Plan failed as to all three of the state’s objectives. This is not to say that any time a state must choose between serving an additional legitimate objective and achieving a lower variance, it may choose the former. But here, given the small ‘size of the deviations,’ as balanced against ‘the importance of the state’s interests, the consistency with which the plan as a whole reflects those interests,’ and the lack of available ‘alternatives that might substantially vindicate those interests yet approximate population equality more closely,’ S. B. 1008 is justified by the state’s legitimate objectives.”

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