Thompson wants to intervene in redistricting suit

Thompson

CHARLESTON -- West Virginia House Speaker Rick Thompson has asked to intervene in a lawsuit filed in the state Supreme Court arguing that a new House of Delegates redistricting plan is unconstitutional.

Thompson filed his four-page motion to intervene Friday.

The Speaker argues that South Charleston attorney Thornton Cooper and Mason and Putnam counties seek relief that violates "established concepts of separation of powers."

"Speaker Thompson believes that the challenges to the House Bill 201 in the two petitions seek to have this Court improperly intercede in the purely legislative task of reapportionment of delegate districts," he wrote.

Putnam County Commissioners Stephen Andes and Joseph Haynes, Putnam County Clerk Brian Wood, Mason County Commissioners Bob Baird, Myles Epung and Rick Handley, and Mason County Clerk Diana Cromley, along with Cooper, filed their petitions last month.

Secretary of State Natalie Tennant is the named respondent in the suit.

Both Cooper and the counties argue that the state's high court should strike down the plan, calling it unconstitutional. They say the Court's intervention is needed to prevent Tennant's office from moving forward in implementing the law.

HB 201, the plan redrawing House districts, was signed into law on Sept. 2.

The state's first redistricting plan passed the Legislature Aug. 5, but flaws were found in the bill so Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin was forced to veto it on Aug. 17. He then called for a second redistricting special session.

The second plan passed the House 56-30 on Aug. 20 and passed the Senate the next day. The plan calls for a total of 67 delegate districts.

Opponents of the law say the configuration violates the "one person, one vote" concept.

But Thompson, in his motion, argues that the state's high court doesn't have the jurisdiction to order the "unconstitutional relief" sought by Cooper and the counties.

"For example, the Putnam/Mason petition seeks a declaration of unconstitutionality and then the retention of jurisdiction by this Court during any subsequent special legislative session in order to 'assure the Legislature's compliance with all provisions of the Constitution of the State of West Virginia and the United States,'" he wrote.

"The Cooper petition seeks relief in the form of an order to the respondent Secretary of State that she process certificates of announcement by candidates for the House of Delegates in accordance with his personal redistricting plan or one based on 'the recommendations he has made in (the Cooper) petition.'"

The relief sought, he contends, is "inconsistent" with the state constitution and separation of powers.

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