If you’ve been paying attention to Virginia politics more than just a little bit, you’re among the many who have wondered why the General Assembly has not yet taken up the Congressional redistricting this session. Virginia’s top Republican lawmaker has now released a statement indicating why.[read_more]
Last October a federal court ruled that Virginia’s Congressional redistricting map was unconstitutionally drawn to weaken the electoral impact of African-American voters. In particular, the U.S. Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia found that the 3rd Congressional District had too many black voters. For more background, read the contemporary report by The Bull Elephant‘s own Paul Prados.
The remedy ordered by the court was that the General Assembly was to draw new lines without the alleged racial gerrymandering by April 1, 2015, or else risk the court drawing new lines itself.
So where are the new proposed lines? Why haven’t we seen the proposed changes when we’re just 5 short weeks away from the court’s deadline? According to a statement released earlier today by Virginia House of Delegates Speaker Bill Howell, it is because the appeal from the district court’s decision has unexpectedly not been taken up by the Supreme Court. According to Howell, the defendants (who now also include Virginia’s Republican delegation to Congress) made a timely appeal of last October’s ruling but instead of being taken up within the first two weeks of the Supreme Court’s January session as expected, the high court still hasn’t dealt with the appeal, even as they enter the sixth week of the Court’s session.
“Typically, summary affirmation by the United States Supreme Court is provided one or two weeks after all briefs have been filed. Almost six weeks has expired since that time, indicating that the Supreme Court is very carefully considering this case. Without a clear resolution from the Supreme Court, it is not clear there are any true legal flaws in the current map, and, if there are, their true nature is not known.
“If the General Assembly were to pass a new redistricting map and if it were signed by the Governor, the current appeal before the United States Supreme Court would be mooted. That would interfere with the right of the defendants to have the merits of this case fully litigated and would be inappropriate. We do not believe that the District Court intended to force the legislature to choose between its legal right to remedy any legal flaws that might ultimately be found or the defendants’ right to appeal and fully litigate the case.”
It seems that the defendants did not see a need to seek a stay in enforcement of the lower court’s order pending appeal to the Supreme Court, despite the compressed timeline in this odd-year short session of the General Assembly. Given the timing, now, however, the defendants are acting to slow things down:
“Because of that, we are confident a stay will be granted. Currently, the defendants have a motion for stay before the District Court, which we believe will be granted. If the District Court does not grant the stay, then application to the Circuit Justice of the Supreme Court should be made and we believe the stay would ultimately be granted.”
We hope the defendants are correct, and that this appeal will result in an overturning of the lower court’s ruling, and hopefully it will come soon. But if their optimism is misplaced then it looks like we may indeed be headed for yet another special session of the General Assembly. And, if the district court isn’t in the mood to give more time (or if defendants decide to not ask for more time), then we’ll see potentially all new Congressional districts introduced and voted on in record time. March is bound to be an interesting month, either way.
Potentially more interesting is whether, once there is a justification for a special session, the General Assembly will again stay “in session” throughout the rest of the year like they did with the 2014 special session (which ended sine die only moments before the gavel came down opening the 2015 session). Will a permanently in-session legislature become Virginia’s new normal?