MARTINSBURG - Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, in a filing in federal court Thursday, argues no relief can be awarded against him in a lawsuit over West Virginia's congressional redistricting plan.
Tomblin, in a six-page answer filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia, often claims he "lacks sufficient knowledge or information" as to the allegations by the Jefferson County Commission, president Patsy Noland and vice president Dale Manuel.
The commission sued the State over the current makeup of its three congressional districts last month. Tomblin, Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, state Senate President Jeff Kessler and House Speaker Rick Thompson all were named in the suit.
Tomblin, who is represented by Thomas W. Rodd of Attorney General Darrell McGraw's office, admits in last week's filing that Senate Bill 1008 "in all of its forms" called for three congressional districts and says its written contents "speak for themselves."
The Jefferson commission argues the defendants, including Tomblin, have a duty under state law to ensure that the laws and constitution of the state are "faithfully executed." That includes, it says, the right to the election of representatives to U.S. Congress from districts that "shall be formed of contiguous counties, and be compact and... contain as nearly as may be, an equal number of population."
The governor admits that he has a constitutional duty to "take care that the laws are faithfully executed" pursuant to the state constitution; however, he argues he does not have "any special duties under the law" with respect to selecting the areas that are to be located in any congressional district or conducting elections for Congress.
The commission says the trouble began during this year's first special session. The state Legislature was tasked with reapportioning congressional districts for the state's delegation to the U.S. House of Representatives based on 2010 U.S. Census figures -- the districts are redrawn every 10 years following the Census.
After creating a task force to develop a new congressional plan, senators eventually originated SB 1008, which provided for three congressional districts of equal proportion.
Under the legislation, each had a population of about 617,665. According to the most recent Census, West Virginia has a total population of 1,852,994.
In August, the Legislature convened in another special session to adopt its plans for redistricting. Four different amendments to SB 1008 were proposed and debated.
Ultimately, the state Senate voted to pass the measure. However, the amended version of the bill moved Mason County from the current Second Congressional District into the current Third District.
The Second District, which includes Jefferson County, is now the most populous of the state's three congressional districts with nearly 5,000 more people than the other two districts. It is represented by Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican.
The Jefferson commission contends that the districts, as currently drawn, are unconstitutional.
In particular, it argues that in placing Jefferson County in such an overpopulated district the Legislature has "deprived" the county's citizens and others in the Second District, and has "diluted" their vote.
"As enacted, the current statute results in an unconstitutionally high variance between the highest and lowest populated congressional districts," the commission wrote.
The commission is requesting that a three-judge panel enter a declaratory judgment that the existing districts violate their rights under state and federal law, and should be declared null and void.
It also is asking the panel to enjoin the defendants from using the current district makeup in any future primary or general election.
Tennant, in a separate answer filed Thursday, says she, too, "lacks sufficient knowledge or information" as to much of the commission's allegations. And like Tomblin, she denies she has "any special duties" under the law with respect to selecting areas that are to be located in any congressional district.
However, Tennant says she would apply the law "as determined by the Legislature and the courts."
In her seven-page filing, the secretary of state also made the court aware of the following deadlines:
- Jan. 9-28, 2012 -- the candidate filing period;
- Feb. 10, 2012 -- the deadline for a political party to nominate a candidate for the primary, should no candidate file;
- Feb. 14, 2012 -- the deadline for her to post a list of candidates who have filed;
- Feb. 21, 2012 -- the date each county conducts ballot position drawings for any party that has more than one candidate file for Congress;
- Feb. 28, 2012 -- the deadline for her to certify a list of candidates to county clerks;
- March 23, 2012 -- the deadline for ballots to be printed and delivered to counties in order to comply with federal military and overseas voter mandates; and
- May 8, 2012 -- election day.
"Congressional candidates do not have to actually reside in the congressional district that they seek to represent, but political strategy concerns may dictate in what district a person chooses to run," wrote Rodd, who is also representing Tennant. "Potential candidates need time to evaluate their options prior to filing."
Kessler and Thompson filed their own joint answer with the federal court earlier this month, arguing they and the Legislature have complied with "all applicable provisions" of state and federal law regarding the redistricting plan.
At the time, they also asked the court to transfer the lawsuit to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia in Charleston "for the convenience of the majority of the parties."
The court agreed to transfer venues in an eight-page order filed Thursday.