Monroe Co. Commission jumps into House redistricting fight

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Nov 7, 2011

CHARLESTON -- The Monroe County Commission has now joined the ranks of those suing over a new House of Delegates redistricting plan.

Its members, Michael Shane Ashley, Clyde Gum Jr. and William Miller, filed a petition for writ of prohibition in the state Supreme Court of Appeals on Friday.

The commission argues, in its 38-page filing, that House Bill 201, the plan redrawing House districts, violates the West Virginia Constitution.

"It is not permissible under our state constitution to divide a county into different delegate districts unless required to satisfy the population equalization provisions of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States," it wrote.

"Even then, a county with a smaller population, such as Monroe County, should not be the county so divided as such division further erodes the limited political power it possesses."

The county is one of the smallest in West Virginia, having a total population of 13,502, according to 2010 U.S. Census figures.

Again pointing to the state constitution, the commission argues it should not be permissible to place a smaller county like Monroe into a multi-member district "where the voting power of its citizens are further diluted."

The new redistricting plan means Monroe voters are split between two different delegate districts "and face the very real prospect of not having a voice in Charleston for the first time in the history of our state," it says.

HB 201 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.

"Our legislature seems to be taking advantage of the legal vacuum that has been created by the federal invalidation of the mathematical procedure formerly used to apportion membership in the House of Delegates," the commission wrote.

"As a result of the lingering uncertainty over the vitality of our state constitutional language in this area, the legislature has been permitted to operate with no guidelines, and no checks or balances."

The commission asks the state's high court to declare HB 201 unconstitutional and to "prohibit and restrain" the respondents -- Secretary of State Natalie Tennant and House Speaker Rick Thompson -- from performing "any official functions" or taking any action to implement the provisions of the bill.

It also asks that the Court issue a rule to show cause to the respondents, asking that they demonstrate why its requested relief should not be granted.

Jeffry A. Pritt of Pritt Law Firm PLLC is representing the commission.

Mason and Putnam counties, along with South Charleston attorney Thornton Cooper, filed their own petitions against the new redistricting plan in September.

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