Group to file appeal in gerrymandering lawsuit

RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY) — A lawsuit challenging how Virginia’s political maps are drawn is getting some new life. The group backing it will appeal this week.

The lawsuit, which looks at how some of the Commonwealth’s districts are shaped, could be moving to the state’s highest court.

“We think the breadcrumbs are there for an appeal,” said Brian Cannon, executive director of redistricting reform group OneVirginia2021.

Cannon says the appeal will be filed to the Supreme Court of Virginia on Wednesday or Thursday.

Last month, a Richmond Circuit Court judge ruled against the suit. He called the case “fairly debatable.” You can read the judge’s opinion here.

The group is suing 11 districts that were drawn in 2011. Six were drawn by Senate Democrats and five were drawn by House Republicans.

These are the districts in question:

  1. House District 13, Del. Marshall (R-Prince William)
  2. House District 22, Del. Byron (R-Lynchburg)
  3. House District 48, Del. Sullivan (D-Fairfax)
  4. House District 72, Del. Massie (R-Henrico)
  5. House District 88, Del. Cole (R-Spotsylvania)
  6. Senate District 19, Sen. Suetterlein (R-Salem)
  7. Senate District 21, Sen. Edwards (D-Roanoke)
  8. Senate District 28, Sen. Stuart (R-King George)
  9. Senate District 29, Sen. McPike (D-Manassas)
  10. Senate District 30, Sen. Ebbin (D-Arlington)
  11. Senate District 37, Sen. Marsden (D-Fairfax)

“We’re looking at, does compactness mean anything at all?” said Cannon. “It’s in our constitution, so it has to mean something. Does it mean anything at all? Or does it just mean what the General Assembly says it does?”

An example of one of the districts challenged in the suit (Photo: OneVirginia2021)

Cannon says they’re challenging “distorted, weirdly shaped districts” that he says break up communities and rig elections by eliminating competition.

“We’re simply saying compactness is a mandatory criteria in our constitution and it was so de-prioritized because of political considerations and everything else that they violated our state constitution,” said Cannon.

But not everyone thinks there was something wrong with the process in 2011.

After the judge issued his opinion in March, House Speaker William Howell released a statement saying:

The districts at issue in this case are as, or more, compact than districts deemed compact by the Virginia Supreme Court dating back to the 1991 plan. Virginia has a fair and open redistricting process that involves multiple hearings and extensive input from the public. The process to draw this plan was rigorous, more inclusive of the public than any Virginia plan in recent memory, and garnered overwhelming bi-partisan support in both chambers.

The facts of this case speak for themselves. The districts were compact, consistent with Virginia Supreme Court precedent, and the process to draw compact districts in 2011 was sound. We are grateful that Judge Marchant declined to apply a new legal standard and we are prepared to defend this plan again should his opinion be appealed by Plaintiffs. It is my hope that the Plaintiffs will accept this ruling and not continue to waste taxpayer dollars by forcing the Commonwealth to defend unnecessary appeals.”

The next time Virginia redraws its lines is 2021.