New Lawsuit Filed Over Va. House and Senate District Boundaries
John Marshall Courts Building
RICHMOND, Va. (WVIR) -
A new lawsuit is challenging the legality of Virginia's congressional districts.
Lawyers believe 11 of the commonwealth’s districts are out of compliance, and so does the nonpartisan reform group OneVirginia2021.
State law says that Congressional districts must be compact, but attorneys are arguing that the districts are bizarrely shaped and fail at meeting the standards for compactness.
“If you look at the shape of them, put the shape of one of those on your television screen and let the people look at it, and they'll see how bizarre these districts are,” said lead attorney Wyatt B. Durrette Junior.
Durrette joined OneVirginia2021 outside Richmond Circuit Court Monday morning once the lawsuit was filed. They say 11 House and Senate districts show too much of a zig-zag shape and should be re-drawn.
“They're not gonna be drawn to protect one political party, or the other, or protect an incumbent. And so people are gonna have a real choice about who to vote for," Durrette said.
The purpose of the lawsuit is to ultimately create districts that allow people to choose between political parties in a competitive environment, and prevent political gerrymandering. Durrette says the court has a chance to deal with two essential questions: "What should the standard for compactness be, and is it fair to consider non-constitutional factors at the same level that you do constitutional ones?"
Monday's lawsuit is separate from two federal lawsuits filed by Democrats that allege the General Assembly illegally packed black voters into a congressional district and 12 state House districts when it redrew boundaries in 2011.
The GOP has defended the current boundaries as legal and appropriate.
State lawmakers have until Friday, September 18, to change the map after a federal court found Virginia's 3rd District lines were drawn to group voters by race.
The General Assembly adjourned last month before taking up the redistricting issue.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
Press Release from One Virginia 2021:
RICHMOND, Sept. 14 – A group of citizens from across Virginia asked the Richmond Circuit Court today to declare that the General Assembly districts in which they live – misshapen and rigged to benefit one candidate over another – violate the state Constitution’s requirement that election districts must be compact.
Backed by the non-partisan redistricting reform group OneVirginia2021, the lawsuit argues that principles in the Virginia Constitution must be given priority over such political considerations as a district’s tendency to support one party or the other in previous elections, or whether the incumbent likes the boundaries.
Article II, Section 6, of the Virginia Constitution commands: “Every election district shall be composed of contiguous and compact territory.”
“The General Assembly unlawfully and unnecessarily subordinated compactness to policy considerations that lack constitutional authority,” the lawsuit says, referring to the legislature’s drawing of the political map in 2011. “In striving to protect incumbents and gain partisan advantage, the constitutional requirement that every district be compact was rarely, if ever, considered.”
That harms the plaintiffs by taking away their constitutional right to live and vote in a compact legislative district, the lawsuit argues.
“Like the other two requirements in the state Constitution – equal population and contiguity – compactness can be measured and held to a reasonable standard,” said Brian Cannon, executive director of OneVirginia2021. “Far from having a standard, the legislature effectively ignored the Constitution on this point, and gave us distorted, weirdly shaped districts that break up communities and rig elections by depriving voters of meaningful competition.”
The lawsuit doesn’t ask to block the upcoming election on Nov. 3, but if it eventually succeeds, it would have the court bar future General Assembly elections until the political map is redrawn to comply with the Constitution’s compactness requirement.
“The suit is not aimed at any member of the General Assembly,” Cannon said, “but at the unconstitutional process and the unfair results.” Defendants are the Virginia State Board of Elections and its officers.
The lead attorney in the suit is Wyatt B. Durrette Jr., a respected trial lawyer and former Republican candidate for governor. Plaintiffs come from across the political spectrum and across the state. Here is a list:
- Rima Ford Vesilind, House District 13 - Arelia Langhorne, House District 22 - Sharon Simkin, House District 48 - Sandra D. Bowen, House District 72 - Robert S. Ukrop, House District 72 - Vivian Dale Swanson, House District 88 - H.D. Fiedler, Senate District 19 - Eric E. Amateis, Senate District 21 - Jessica Bennett, Senate District 21 - Gregory Harrison, Senate District 28, House District 88 - Michael Zaner, Senate District 28, House District 88 - Linda Cushing, Senate District 29 - Sean Sullivan Kumar, Senate District 30 - Dianne Blais, Senate District 37
A copy of the lawsuit can be found at www.onevirginia2021.org/compact, including maps showing the distorted boundaries of the challenged districts. Wyatt Durrette and Brian Cannon are available for interviews.
OneVirginia2021: Virginians for Fair Redistricting is a group of dedicated Virginians from across the political spectrum who believe congressional and state legislative districts belong to the citizens of our Commonwealth, and not to any legislator, special interest, or political party. We advocate for a fair process, not a particular political outcome.
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