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Between the Lines: W.Va. Officials Petition Supreme Court on New Map

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Even though the West Virginia Legislature passed a redistricting map in August with minimal drama, legal wrangling continues to halt its implementation.

Most recently, state officials requested a stay from the U.S. Supreme Court after a three-judge panel in a lower court ruled against the map passed by the Legislature last year. The panel deemed there was too much population variation among West Virginia's three districts.

What's more, the Supreme Court indicated it could take up the Mountain State's case when it asked a county commission for its response to the stay on Tuesday. Officials told local reporters they believe that's a sign the high court might grant their request for a stay as soon as this week.

Meanwhile, the Legislature went into session last week and is working on backup plans in case the Supreme Court does not side with the state in an appeal, according to TV affiliate WOWK.

Texas: Preclearance Trial Starts in District Court

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia began its trial Tuesday to determine whether it will approve the state's Congressional map.

On the first day of the preclearance trial, counsel for the state of Texas argued that GOP mapmakers did not intentionally discriminate against minority voters in their redrawn map passed last summer.

"Map drawers made a good faith effort to follow Department of Justice guidance," Adam Mortara, an attorney for Texas, argued, according to Bloomberg News. "The voter map is not retrogressive in terms of Latino voting strength."

The trial in the District Court started just eight days after the Supreme Court heard arguments over the new map in a related case. The high court will determine whether a three-judge panel overstepped its authority by drawing an interim Congressional map before the D.C. court finished its trial.

In that initial hearing on Jan. 9, several Supreme Court justices suggested the state should wait until the District of Columbia's trial is finished.

But officials are quickly running out of time before the primary, with the final arguments in the D.C. court case scheduled for Feb. 3. The state already moved its primary back once to April 3, but given the ongoing trial, it's unlikely officials will be able to keep that date.

There are four new House seats at stake in Texas, mostly because of the increase in Hispanic population over the past decade.

Texas is one of nine states that requires preclearance from the Justice Department or a federal court before implementing its maps under Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Last summer, Texas opted to sidestep the Justice Department and sued for preclearance directly in federal court.

Florida: Legislative Leaders to Negotiate One Map

The GOP-controlled state Senate passed a Congressional redistricting plan Tuesday that solidifies the heavy GOP advantage in the federal delegation but leaves Republican Reps. David Rivera, Steve Southerland, Allen West and Tom Rooney vulnerable.

It also adds two new seats one likely Republican, one likely Democratic that the Sunshine State was allotted in reapportionment.

The Senate-passed map must be reconciled with whatever Congressional plan the GOP-controlled state House passes. Any final map signed into law by Republican Gov. Rick Scott is almost certain to end up in court.

Democrats plan to sue, alleging that the GOP map drawers didn't adhere to the state's new Fair Districts constitutional amendments that require lines to be drawn without "the intent to favor or disfavor a political party or an incumbent."

The plan received significant Democratic support in the final vote, which may be a boon to GOP arguments when the map appears before a court.

Florida Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith slammed the proposed map.

"With this vote the Senate has sent a chilling message to the people of Florida: safe districts are more important than Fair Districts," he said in a statement. "The Republican-led Senate has ignored Florida voters and, sadly, the courts will most likely be tasked with implementing the people's will."

Any final map must receive approval from the Department of Justice under Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act before it becomes enforceable law.

Virginia: GOP's Preferred Map On Fast Track to Pass

With Republicans in total control of state government in Richmond, the party's once-stalled Congressional redistricting plan continues to progress through the legislative process.

A Virginia state Senate committee approved the GOP's bill Tuesday on a party-line vote. The bill shores up all 11 incumbents eight Republicans and three Democrats and includes one majority-minority district.

The plan is now on a fast track through the Legislature, with the June 12 Congressional primaries looming. The House of Delegates passed the bill easily late last week. A spokesman for the Senate clerk said the bill could hit the chamber's floor as early as Friday.

Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R) has the deciding vote now that the parties have split control of the 40-seat Senate, and Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) is expected to sign the bill.

Democrats controlled the chamber prior to November's elections and had passed a Congressional redistricting plan that included one majority-minority district and one minority-influenced district. The House-passed plan includes only one majority-minority district, Rep. Bobby Scott's (D) 3rd district.

Missouri: Court Order to Review Map Boosts Carnahan

In a ruling that may help Rep. Russ Carnahan (D), the state Supreme Court has asked a lower court to determine whether the new Congressional map complies with the state constitution.

Carnahan saw his Congressional district essentially eliminated in the redistricting process and faces the prospect of either running in a Republican district or challenging a fellow Democrat.

Missouri was one of the first states to draw a new map, with the Legislature overriding a gubernatorial veto to approve it in May. With the state losing a seat because of national shifts in population, Carnahan was drawn into the 1st district, currently represented by Rep. William Lacy Clay (D).

A state circuit court dismissed two lawsuits challenging the new map on the grounds that the lines in particular the Republican-leaning 3rd district and the safe Democratic 5th district held by Rep. Emanuel Cleaver did not meet the state constitution's requirement that districts be as "compact" as practicable.

But the state Supreme Court ruled that "it was error" for the lower court to throw out those cases. In its opinion, the high court ordered the circuit court to hold a hearing to determine whether "the districts were drawn as compact as may be."

The circuit court was ordered to enter a judgment on the matter by Feb. 3 so that the Legislature could, in a timely fashion, "redistrict the state, if necessary." The state's candidate filing deadline is March 27.

"This decision by the Missouri Supreme Court is good news for voters in Missouri, who deserve fair representation," Carnahan said in a statement. "The Court has sent a clear signal that this lawsuit, brought on behalf of Missouri voters, has merit and deserves to be heard."

A voice mail left with Cleaver's office was not returned.

Arizona: Commission Approves Map Along Party Lines

The Independent Redistricting Commission gave final approval Tuesday to a Congressional map, according to the Arizona Republic News.

The vote fell along partisan lines, with two Democrats approving it and two Republicans voting against it. The tiebreaker independent vote, Colleen Mathis, voted with the Democrats.

The map now heads to the Justice Department, which will determine whether to grant the new plan preclearance. Arizona is one of less than a dozen states with maps that must receive federal approval before implementation under Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

The vote concludes the cycle's nastiest redistricting battle. Republicans who controlled the state government were so angered with the map, the process and Mathis that they impeached her. But the vote was overturned by the state Supreme Court.

Send news items on redistricting to Between the Lines here.

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