The U.S. Supreme Court said Friday that it will review whether Virginia lawmakers improperly packed minority voters into one congressional district at the expense of their influence elsewhere in the state. The court will consider whether earlier court decisions that ruled the districts invalid were correct. A three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Virginia has twice invalidated the boundaries of a snake-like district that stretches from Richmond southeast to Norfolk — and ordered lawmakers to redraw the election map. The Supreme Court’s action represents a small victory for Virginia House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) and Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr. (R-James City), whose chambers would draw up the boundaries. Republicans had insisted on letting appeals play out before they abided by the order in case the high court intervened, as it did Friday.
The day before today’s court-imposed deadline to redraw Virginia’s 3rd Congressional District, there were no signs of reconciliation between Democrats and Republicans in the legislature. That will almost certainly put the map in the hands of a federal court. “There haven’t been any conversations, no,” said Matt Moran, spokesman for House of Delegates Speaker William J. Howell, R-Stafford, on Monday afternoon — two weeks after the state Senate adjourned a special legislative session hours after it began. “The House of Delegates acted in good faith to begin the redistricting process. Senate Democrats unilaterally ended that process in the middle of a public hearing, defying a federal court ruling and unilaterally shutting down the possibility of a legislative remedy. The ball is squarely in their court,” Moran said.
State lawmakers are set to return to the Capitol on Monday for what’s expected to be a contentious fight over congressional redistricting and a Virginia Supreme Court appointment. The fate of the governor’s high court selection is all but certain, but the final look at what Virginia’s new congressional boundaries will look like is less clear. Republican leaders of the GOP-controlled General Assembly plan to elect Rossie D. Alston Jr. Monday as a new justice on the Virginia Supreme Court. His election will remove Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s new appointment to the high court, Justice Jane Marum Roush, who took her spot on the bench at the beginning of this month. The judge fight has been all about politics, as both sides say Roush is a qualified candidate.
Republican leaders of Virginia General Assembly on Tuesday rebuffed an effort by Gov. Terry McAuliffe to strike a deal on the state’s congressional elections map before a court-imposed deadline. According to a June ruling, the General Assembly has until Sept. 1 to redraw congressional district boundaries, which the court said illegally pack African Americans into a single district to dilute their influence elsewhere. On Tuesday, McAuliffe (D) sent a letter to House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) and Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment (R-James City) requesting a meeting “to forge compromise on a plan that is agreeable to the General Assembly and can be reviewed quickly by the public and our congressional colleagues.”
The Republican challenger to Virginia House Speaker William J. Howell on Thursday suffered a setback in her effort to reverse what she says is a change in absentee-ballot rules that gives the incumbent an unfair advantage in next week’s primary. A judge in Stafford County denied Susan Stimpson’s petition for an emergency injunction that would have made it more difficult for Howell and other candidates to collect absentee ballot requests electronically. Stimpson, 43, is taking on Howell, 72, in a race to represent a district including Stafford and Fredericksburg. Howell has been in office for 28 years and at one time helped Stimpson win a seat on the county board of supervisors.
The Virginia House of Delegates must produce the majority of documents sought by the plaintiffs in a lawsuit claiming a 2011 redistricting plan was crafted to disenfranchise black voters, a federal judge ruled.
Senior U.S. District Judge Robert Payne’s May 26 ruling was a victory for the 12 plaintiffs who claim “bizarrely-shaped” house voting districts included in the plan were drafted based on a “purely racial classification of voters” that was both arbitrary and unconstitutional. Virginia House Speaker William J. Howell denied the allegations intervened in the case to argue that documents requested by the plaintiffs to bolster their case are protected by legislative and attorney-client privilege.
A federal court on Monday gave the Virginia General Assembly more time to redraw the state’s congressional map, which the panel ruled unconstitutional for diluting the influence of African American voters. The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia moved the April 1 deadline to either Sept. 1 or 60 days after the U.S. Supreme Court rules on a pending appeal from congressional Republicans, whichever comes first. The ruling favors the approach taken by House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford), who said Friday that he would not redraw the lines until the appeal was decided. Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) disagreed and said last week that “running out the clock” unnecessarily confuses what, he said, should be a straightforward process. “The governor remains ready to work with the General Assembly to pass a fair, nonpartisan congressional map that complies with the court’s standing ruling on this issue,” McAuliffe’s spokesman, Brian Coy, said Monday.
The Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates has intervened in a federal lawsuit that alleges his chamber’s legislative districts were gerrymandered to dilute African-American influence. Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) and the House of Delegates will now be defending in court the map they drew in 2011 against a lawsuit filed by a group of Virginia citizens against the state Board of Elections and Department of Elections. Judge David J. Novak granted Howell’s motion Tuesday. “The speaker has an obligation to ensure that the House is represented in court,” spokesman Matt Moran said. Any legal fees will be paid out of the House budget at Howell’s discretion.
Speaker of the House William J. Howell, R-Stafford, has ruled that the surprise Senate amendments to redistricting changes are not germane, throwing the future of the proposed Senate boundary moves in doubt. Senate Republicans pushed through the amendments on a 20-19 party-line vote on a day when Democrats were down one member because Sen. Henry L. Marsh III, D-Richmond, attended inauguration ceremonies for President Barack Obama in Washington on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Because the Senate made changes to a House measure, it had to return to the House of Delegates for approval. Howell said the bill amended by the Senate was “modified to stray dramatically, in my opinion, from the legislation’s original purpose of addressing relatively technical, minor administrative adjustments to certain districts.” The rewrite of Senate districts “goes well beyond” the customary tweaks, he said. Howell told reporters after the floor session that “It wasn’t something I relished. It’s my job. I’m the only one who can make that decision. I talked to a lot of people about it, prayed about it,feel at peace about what I did. Think I did what was right.”