Court’s ruling makes ‘sore thumb’ of Eastern Panhandle

The ruling this week by the U.S. Supreme Court that holds in place a redistricting plan adopted in 2010 by the state Legislature, and that makes Jefferson County the tail end of a 300-mile long ‘gerrymander,’ all but dashes the Eastern Panhandle’s hopes for better representation in Congress.

The court’s decision argues that precedent — that being the unfair one that has left the Second District largely unchanged since 1990 — trumps the constitutional provision of ‘one person, one vote,’ which was largely waved away by justices, and lets stand the so-called “reasonable exercise of … political judgment” of the state Legislature, despite evidence that expediency was foremost on lawmakers’ minds when they approved the latest map two years ago. Here’s Minority Leader Mike Hall on the Senate floor as lawmakers were then deliberating: “It’s late in the game … Everyone wants to go home.”

The Supreme Court’s ruling overturns a 2-1 decision by a three-judge District Court panel that called the Legislature’s plan “unconstitutional” for not adhering to the West Virginia Constitution’s compactness standard — indeed the district crosses the Eastern Continental Divide, making it one of the longest U.S. districts in the country — and failing to abide by the court’s own standard of equal representation; the Second District is overpopulated by more than 4,800 people. The court let stand the issue of compactness, throwing open the slim possibility that the plan could yet be rejected.

While the Legislature’s plan, which flipped Mason County from one district to another, manages to avoid splitting counties, Senate President Jeff Kessler’s attorney George Carenbauer crows too much about how “apolitical” the plan supported by the high court was when it appears that that too was more a byproduct of lawmakers’ haste than any real intent on their part. And how apolitical is a plan that protects incumbents? — a stated objective of lawmakers. Kessler cheered the court’s decision, noting that in redistricting, “(s)omeone’s always going to be sticking out like a sore thumb.”

In disagreeing with the three-judge panel for its failure to “afford appropriate deference” to state lawmakers, the Supreme Court afforded more respect for lawmakers’ “political judgment” than it deserved, when that judgment apparently had more to do with high-tailing it home and maintaining the status quo than it did with righting a 20-year-old wrong and granting the state’s own Eastern Panhandle the representation it deserves.

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