After the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia invalidated the House of Delegates legislative map a few weeks ago, Governor Ralph Northam has announced that the General Assembly will convene August 30 in Richmond for a special session to redraw the district lines to comply with the court order. The ruling was handed down following allegations of racial gerrymandering in districts in the Richmond metro area, Petersburg, and Hampton Roads.
The three judge panel found that state legislators unconstitutionally packed African-American voters into majority-minority districts during the redistricting process that occurred after the 2010 census. The panel ruled that such a measure diluted the voting power of African-Americans in neighboring districts that historically leaned Republican.
Republicans in the House are currently filing the paperwork to challenge the Democratic-backed lawsuit in the Supreme Court. The federal judicial panel gave House Republicans until October 30 to redraw the legislative map; however, Northam has set his own timetable as lawmakers will come back to Bank street at the end of the month.
Through a news release, the governor proclaimed: “It is in the public interest for the General Assembly to finalize constitutional maps as soon as possible – Virginians deserve that clarity. 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.”
In a statement, Speaker of the House Delegates Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) said: “The Special Session does not change our plans to pursue all the legal protections provided to us by Federal law and the Constitution.”
“Drawing a map that can withstand legal scrutiny is neither a quick nor simple process,” Cox said. “The General Assembly must establish criteria, hold committee meetings, and gather public input from across the Commonwealth. 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.”
Moreover, the speaker indicated that his majority party will wait for Governor Northam and House Minority Leader David Toscano (D-Charlottesville) to submit an initial redistricting plan before the GOP acts.
The redrawn political districts would not come into effect immediately, but when all House and Senate seats are up for grabs in 2019.