The Virginia Senate has spent $180,000 in taxpayer dollars on a court battle over whether state election maps illegally protect incumbents from primary challenges, according to documents obtained under the state’s public records law by an advocacy group. The lawsuit, funded by a redistricting reform group, argues that 11 state Senate districts violate the constitutional requirement that districts be “compact.” Instead, many legislative districts zigzag across Virginia in odd shapes in an effort to capture the precise mix of voters to give an incumbent lawmaker the best chance for reelection, critics say. As part of the lawsuit, some lawmakers are trying to keep secret emails about the 2011 redistricting process sought by lawyers for OneVirginia2021, a nonprofit which says it wants to take the politics out of the process of drawing district boundaries. The lawsuit has taken unexpected turns, raising questions about conflict of interest and what politicians can and cannot hide from judicial scrutiny.
A Richmond Circuit Court judge earlier this month found four Senate Democrats and two former senators in contempt of court for refusing to turn over correspondence.
The lawmakers currently serving are Senate Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax) and Sens. George L. Barker (D-Fairfax), David W. Marsden (D-Fairfax) and John S. Edwards (D-Roanoke). The former senators are Charles J. Colgan (D-Prince William) and Ralph Smith (R-Roanke.)
Attorneys for the lawmakers said legislative privilege provided by the state constitution protects their correspondence from court review. A judge disagreed and fined the six lawmakers $100 each per day to be paid by taxpayers if the issue is ultimately decided against them.