By Steven Allen Adams
CHARLESTON, W., Virginia (Reuters) - The Supreme Court granted a request from West Virginia officials on Friday by issuing an order that keeps the state's new congressional redistricting plan in effect pending further legal action.
The high court issued a one-sentence order putting a hold on a lower court ruling that had deemed the redistricting plan unconstitutional.
The lower court ruled earlier this month that the redistricting plan, drawn up by the state's Democratic-led legislature and adopted last summer, failed to provide equal representation in each congressional district.
The redistricting, in which the boundaries of election districts are redrawn to reflect population changes in a process that can evoke partisan squabbles, will affect the state's three House of Representative races this year.
Redrawing congressional boundaries can be contentious, as it has been recently in Ohio and Texas, because reconfigured congressional boundaries have the potential to reshape the political balance of power.
The Jefferson County, West Virginia Commission filed suit against the plan last year, citing population differences among districts and an ongoing breakup of state's Eastern Panhandle, which added population according to the 2010 Census.
Under the Supreme Court stay, officials can now plan the 2012 election under the current congressional redistricting plan. Primary elections are scheduled for May 8.
The stay could mean state officials might have a good chance of winning a full appeal as well.
"For a stay to be granted, you normally have to establish a substantial likelihood of success on the merits," said state Senate President Jeff Kessler, one of the officials who sought the stay. "Reading into that, it's not an absolute guarantee, but it's some assurance that the work we passed previously is solid."
The Supreme Court on Friday rejected judge-drawn election maps in Texas favoring minority candidates and Democrats in the 2012 elections.
The high court unanimously set aside the interim maps created by federal district court judges in San Antonio, saying it was unclear whether the judges followed the appropriate standards. It said the judges appeared to have unnecessarily ignored plans by elected lawmakers in drawing certain districts.
The Texas dispute had been closely watched because it could help decide whether Republicans or Democrats gain as many as four seats in the U.S. House of Representatives in November.
The Obama administration, the state Democratic Party and minority groups have challenged parts or all of Texas' redistricting plan for violating the voting rights law, and said the judicially drawn one should be used on an interim basis.
In Ohio, lawmakers in December settled a fight over a congressional redistricting map, eliminating the possibility of a referendum vote over the issue this year.
(Additional reporting by James Vicini, Editing By Ellen Wulfhorst and Daniel Trotta)