The public never got its say on changes to Virginia congressional district boundaries and the state’s political redistricting process. But federal judges soon will. A public hearing on redistricting ended abruptly Monday when the House Privileges and Elections Committee chairman, Mark L. Cole, R-Spotsylvania, refused to take further testimony after announcing that the Senate had adjourned the special legislative session hours after it began. Cole interrupted Diana Egozcue, president of Virginia NOW and the sixth of 19 scheduled speakers, with the announcement, “We’re no longer in session, so we can no longer take your testimony.” House Republican leaders appeared shell-shocked by the Senate maneuver, which ensures the General Assembly will not meet a Sept. 1 deadline imposed by a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to fix unconstitutional defects in the redistricting plan that then-Gov. Bob McDonnell signed in January 2012. Gov. Terry McAuliffe issued a statement that explicitly kicked the issue back to the courts and declared, “The opportunity for a legislative remedy has ended.” McAuliffe said he was going to send a letter to the courts. “They need to get this redistricting done,” he said in a meeting with reporters outside the Executive Mansion.
So, the court will assume the task of drawing new districts to reduce what it found to be unconstitutional gerrymandering to pack black voters into the 3rd Congressional District and reduce their influence in other districts.
“I’m still speechless,” said Del. S. Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, chairman of the Joint Apportionment Committee and the lead architect of House Republicans’ pending plan to remedy problems the court found in the 3rd District. Jones had planned to file his proposal next week for the General Assembly to consider near the end of the month. “I wanted to hear comments today about the 3rd and what their remedies are,” he said.
Cole called the Senate maneuver “irresponsible,” and House Republican leaders called it unconstitutional in a joint statement issued Monday afternoon.