Lawyers for the Commonwealth of Virginia appeared before the state Supreme Court Thursday arguing that legislators are legally allowed to create electoral district maps — even if the districts are not as compact as critics would hope. The case originated with a challenge to state House and Senate district maps that were drawn in 2011 and 2012. The focus in the underlying lawsuit was on 11 districts that One Virginia 2021, a bipartisan fair elections group, claims are unwieldy and fail to comport with the notion of compactness enshrined in the state constitution.
While a Richmond Circuit Court expressed sympathy for Virginia 2021’s argument, the judge nevertheless sided with the defendant legislators saying they had wide deference to make redistricting decisions. The voters appealed, which brought the case before the Virginia Supreme Court.
According to lawyers for the voters, the state legislature failed to keep compactness in mind when they drew the maps seven years ago. Compactness is a matter of keeping “communities of interest” together, among other criteria. It is one of three points that must be considered when drawing district lines according to the state’s 1971 Constitution.