Gerrymandered Virginia House Districts to Be Redrawn in Special Session
By Reema Amin
Gov. Ralph Northam has set Aug. 30 for lawmakers to begin hashing out a federal court order to redraw 11 House of Delegates districts -- six of them in Hampton Roads.
On the Peninsula, the court order would mean new lines for the 95th District, represented by Del. Marcia "Cia" Price, D-Newport News, and the 92nd District, represented by Del. Jeion Ward, D-Hampton.
In South Hampton Roads, the order calls for the redrawing of the 77th, 80th, 89th and 90th districts, represented respectively by Del. Cliff Hayes, D-Chesapeake; Del. Matthew James, D-Portsmouth; Del. Jay Jones, D-Norfolk; and Del. Joe Lindsey, D-Norfolk.
Redrawing district lines could move voters into new districts and change where they vote. People also could be placed under a new representative in the House of Delegates.
"It is in the public interest for the General Assembly to finalize constitutional maps as soon as possible -- Virginians deserve that clarity," Northam said in a statement Monday. "I am calling a special session so we can focus our collective attention on doing what's right: working together to draw lines that represent Virginians fairly."
Speaker of the House Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, said lawmakers will meet at noon Aug. 30, but House Republicans will continue to pursue legal options about halting these redistricting plans -- through a request for a stay in the U.S. Eastern District Court and an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The federal court order, issued in June, set Oct. 30 as the deadline to redraw districts. A three-judge panel ruled that when those 11 districts were designed in 2011, they were fashioned to dilute blacks' votes and make districts more white and more Republican.
"I'm glad that the governor sees the urgency in our remedying the unconstitutional districts that are racially gerrymandered, including the 95th District," said Del. Price.
In his appeal of the federal court ruling, Cox argued that the majority of the judicial panel erred when it found a House guideline for redrawing districts did not meet the standards of the Voting Rights Act.
That House guideline, used in 2011, was to make sure that at least 55 percent of the voting age population in each majority-minority district had to be black.
In his appeal, Cox asked for the October deadline to be put off until the U.S. Supreme Court can weigh in. Cox said Republicans plan to submit their full appeal to the Supreme Court by next month.
Cox argued it could have "irreparable harm" to the House if the Supreme Court overturns the federal court order, but lawmakers have already started redrawing lines. He argued it could be an "immense waste of scarce resources" and cause confusion as Virginia approaches the 2019 state election.
The Eastern District Court has set Thursday as a deadline for Republicans to say what their plan is on meeting the Oct. 30 deadline. In his statement Monday, Cox said Republicans intend to file a notice this week that further supports staying the federal court order.
Cox said they also plan to submit their full appeal to the Supreme Court by next month.
In the meantime, Democrats have been creating a proposal with new district lines, which they hope to be ready by the start of the special session, said Kathryn Gilley, spokeswoman for House Democrats.
Since the court's ruling, Democrats have been working on a "fair and constitutional map, and we hope that the House Republicans will be receptive and show a good faith effort to pass new maps in the best interest of Virginia voters," said House Minority Leader David Toscano, D-Charlottesville.
In his statement, Cox said it's not going to be a fast or simple process.
"The General Assembly must establish criteria, hold committee meetings, and gather public input from across the Commonwealth," Cox said. "A bevy of federal redistricting cases has created a confusing set of conflicting standards and expectations, all of which must be met to satisfy the Courts. The Special Session called by the Governor gives him and Delegate Toscano the opportunity to present a redistricting plan and demonstrate a willingness to engage in a good-faith effort. We look forward to reviewing their proposal."
Redrawing district lines and spreading black constituents in new districts could make some areas less Republican.
For example, the 95th District snakes for about 18 miles from the Southeast Community in Newport News, and wraps in almost every public housing project and major rent-subsidized apartment complex in Newport News.
Price's district also splits five precincts to create a district that is 63 percent black.
Several of the majority-black precincts added to the 95th in 2011 touch the 94th District, represented by Del. David Yancey, R-Newport News, whose district is currently a close split between Democrat and Republican voters.
Other precincts in the 95th District touch the 93rd District, represented by Del. Mike Mullin, D-Newport News.
Moving some of Price's constituents into either of these districts could make both of them more Democratic.
(c)2018 the Daily Press (Newport News, Va.)