RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY) — Monday Virginia’s state senate adjourned a special session Governor Terry McAuliffe called to settle the redistricting dispute, without making a decision on how to redraw congressional lines.
In a statement released after the adjournment, the Governor said: “legislators are impossibly deadlocked and have no chance of approving legitimate congressional maps.”
What that means is that the Virginia Supreme Court will likely settle the matter, making sure all congressional districts satisfy equal representation, protect minority voting rights, and are compact and contiguous.
The Governor’s statement continued: “Therefore, it is appropriate that the Court now take action and provide relief to the citizens of the Commonwealth in the form of a new map … It is clear, given the Court ruling, that the only means to achieve that goal is to take a comprehensive approach that starts from the beginning and erases the taint of racial and partisan politics that poisons the old unconstitutional map.”
The dispute surrounds the Third Congressional District that stretches from Norfolk and Portsmouth to Richmond. A federal court ruled it is unconstitutional because its shape groups a large number of African Americans into a single district — which essentially gives African Americans in the Commonwealth an unequal say in government.
In fact, 56 percent of the residents in the Third Congressional District are African American, which is the highest percentage in Virginia. The district is represented by Congressman Bobby Scott.
“I would like the district to be constitutional. Just tell me where the lines are. I don’t get to draw the lines. The General Assembly draws the lines. Just tell me where they are, and I’ll start campaigning,” Scott said Monday.
The court taking on the matter could take 15 to 20 percent of Scott’s African-American voters — who tend to vote democratic — and put those voters in surrounding districts. That would build the democratic base, creating more opportunities for African-American candidates to wage successful campaigns.
“The courts have ruled the lines are unconstitutional,” Scott said. “It’s just a matter of the General Assembly and the Governor to get together to do the work they were elected to do, and that is redraw the lines for the 11 Congressional Districts.”
Scott said that hours before the news of the General Assembly’s inability to resolved the issue. The fact is, the politicians couldn’t get it together to resolve the matter they were elected to resolve.
Drawing the congressional lines is a political process. Republicans control the General Assembly. U.S. Senator Tim Kaine supports the redistricting to be done by a panel of people who promise not to run for office for five years.
“And here’s what you do: let them draw districts, and you have it evenly balanced. The same number of folks chosen by democrats and chosen by republicans. Then you re-draw the districts that aren’t primarily about incumbent protection, but are really about representing the people of Virginia,” Kaine said Monday.
Lue Ward fought redistricting, won a seat on the Suffolk City Council, and even wrote a book called Drawn Out, Sworn In.
“Pughsville was one of the largest voting blocks in the city of Suffolk for African-Americans,” Ward said. “When they redrew the lines, they split it. I think it was 57 percent to 26 percent, so that’s when I decided to run.”
Scott adds, “I think the important thing is to comply with the new interpretation of the Voting Rights Act. The fact is, the Supreme Court changes the law every ten years, and you just have to deal with it.”
Congressional lines are redrawn every ten years based on the census of population. Every district must have the same number of voters. If you take 10,000 voters from one district and put them in another district, you must replace that 10,000 in the first district.
Republicans are seething over this. They wrote us: “Senate democrats unconstitutional attempt to adjourn defies a federal court ruling … eliminating any possibility of a legislative remedy on redistricting.”
Strategically, democrats may want the court to settle the matter because democrats could believe the court will give them a better shot at picking up more congressional seats. Republicans now have eight seats to democrats three.
Gov. McAuliffe’s full statement Monday, is as follows:
I am shocked and saddened that Republican leaders denied a sitting Supreme Court Justice a hearing, even as she sat at her desk, across the street from today’s Joint Courts of Justice meeting, continuing to serve the citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia. This is not the Virginia way to treat anyone, let alone an outstanding female jurist. Republicans have yet to raise a single concern about Justice Roush’s legal skills or her integrity. Indeed, they have repeatedly acknowledged that her qualifications are unmatched.
Republican leaders ultimately were incapable of electing anyone, leaving the state’s highest court in a state of uncertainty. It is disgraceful that Republicans have turned a serious decision affecting Virginia’s entire judicial system into an embarrassing partisan circus. I call on lawmakers to return to Virginia’s time-honored traditions for electing judges. I ask that they walk across the street and invite Justice Roush to a new hearing, one that is open and fair, and gives this highly qualified judge the respect she is due.