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Virginia Supreme Court Rejects GOP Redistricting Nominees

November 13, 2021 by Dan McCue
(Photo by Morgan Riley via Wikimedia Commons)

RICHMOND, Va. — In a unanimous ruling, the Virginia Supreme Court on Friday rejected all three Republicans nominated to help it draw new legislative district maps based on 2020 census data.

The move is the latest development since a bipartisan commission failed to reach agreement on new congressional and General Assembly districts. 

That placed the matter in the hands of the Supreme Court, which had asked both Democratic and Republican leaders in the state legislature to nominate potential “special masters” to assist in the process.

But in a letter to the court this week, Senate Majority Leader Richard Saslaw, a Democrat, objected to all three Republican picks, pointing to their past paid work for the GOP as political operatives as evidence of conflicts of interest.

On Friday, the court agreed. Writing for the court, Chief Justice Donald Lemons said nominees for the mapping project “must be neutral and must not act as advocates or representatives of any political party.”

It ordered the Republicans to submit at least three new nominees by 5 p.m. Monday and also gave the Democrats the same deadline for submitting at least one additional nominee after one of the party’s current nominees expressed reservations about participating in the process.

The task of redrawing district maps in Virginia is being carried out under a new process approved by voters in a 2020 referendum.

The law created a bipartisan redistricting commission that in theory was supposed to submit new maps to the state legislature for approval. 

But the commission failed to agree on a single map, with Democrats and Republicans on the commission evenly split on every proposal that came before them.

Wary Democrats, who opposed the 2020 referendum in the first place, are unhappy with how the process is playing out, because they believe the court leans in favor of the Republicans and that the maps the state will now wind up with create GOP majorities in both Congress and the General Assembly that will last for at least the next decade.

In its order Friday, the court tried to address those concerns, taking pains to emphasize that it wants to keep the process as free from partisanship as possible. 

Once special masters are selected, it said, they  “will not be permitted to consult with any political parties, partisan organizations, outside experts, or any other person or entity except for their personal support staff and individuals specifically authorized by this Court.”

If the parties nominate acceptable candidates on Monday, the court will appoint one special master from each side. They will then be given 30 days to work together and come up with a single set of maps for the court to review.

Dan can be reached at [email protected] and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue

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