Virginia Legislators to Meet this Week to Redraw House Districts

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State legislators will meet on Thursday to redraw voting district lines. State legislators will meet on Thursday to redraw voting district lines.
Virginia House Democratic Leader David Toscano. Virginia House Democratic Leader David Toscano.
The current voting district lines in Richmond and Hampton Roads. The current voting district lines in Richmond and Hampton Roads.
Governor Ralph Northam. Governor Ralph Northam.

State legislators are preparing for a special session planned for Thursday to redraw House of Delegate districts in portions of Virginia.

The special session comes after a federal judge ruled lawmakers violated the equal protection clause by packing African-Americans into several districts. In the ruling, the judge set a deadline of October 31 to redraw the district lines.

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam called all members of the General Assembly back into session to redraw the districts, in result to the ruling. According to Northam, people should be able to pick their representatives.

“They’re unconstitutional districts, so this is an opportunity for the General Assembly to draw these lines correctly,” Northam said.

State Republicans said the special session is premature at this point because there are still ongoing appeals to the redistricting case.

“The Supreme Court has not weighed on whether they will take the case or not related to this, and it is on appeal,” said Delegate Steve Landes (R) of the 25th District. “Generally, we wait for these things to go through the normal legal process…obviously at the federal level in this case and I think the governor just kind of jumped the gun.”   

The Democratic Party said it has a new map drafted to address districts in the Richmond and Hampton Roads area. 

“We’ve been operating under unconstitutional districts for the last four house elections and the court as instructed us that we need to draw lines that are constitutional, so this isn’t premature in any sense,” said Virginia House Democratic Leader David Toscano of the 57th District. “…the Republicans took a lot of African American voters and concentrated them all in several districts.”

Republicans have appealed the decision to redraw the lines to the Supreme Court, but have yet to hear if the case will be heard or not. According to Landes, the majority of the Democratic caucus in the House voted for the maps in 2011.

“I think cased on the criteria at the time and based on the minority representation that we were trying to make sure there was represented in the General Assembly,” Landes said. “Those maps were drawn with those considerations and with the considerations at the time of what we should be doing with redistricting.”

He also says the Justice Department during the Obama administration approved the map because Virginia is a state that must have pre-clearance because of the voting rights act.

“I hope the Republicans will be willing to look at that map, work together in a nonpartisan way or bipartisan way and move forward and make sure that voters in Virginia are able to pick their representatives rather than politicians picking the voters,” Northam said.

If no plan is approved by the General Assembly, a federal court will step in to draw new lines in those House of Delegates that have been ruled unconstitutional.