House Democrats propose redistricting special session
On Monday, House Democratic Leader David Toscano sent Speaker Kirk Cox a letter proposing options to convene the General Assembly to redraw 11 House districts as ordered by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.
The districts, which were drawn in 2011 by the Virginia House of Delegates, have been found to violate the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution by illegally concentrating people of color in districts and thus diluting their voting power. The district court has suggested the General Assembly act by October 30, 2018 to provide a new district map.
In the letter to Speaker Cox, Delegate Toscano writes, “The opinion of the district court allows the General Assembly to address the constitutional infirmities, and I believe it is our duty to do so … Delaying further simply frustrates the rule of law and our obligation to uphold the Constitution.”
The litigation, which was filed in 2014, has undergone a lengthy process during which time Virginians in the affected areas have consistently voted in unconstitutionally drawn districts. Speaker Cox and House Republicans recently filed an appeal which threatens to further delay the process and could affect the upcoming 2019 elections. As Delegate Toscano states in the letter, the protracted litigation “…has now cost Virginia taxpayers over $5 million to defend the drawing of unconstitutional districts.”
Delegate Toscano’s letter also discusses the history of an earlier case, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the redrawing of Virginia’s congressional districts. Following that court decision, the General Assembly failed to produce new maps in a timely fashion, and the court had to intervene to do so. Toscano suggested that this result can be avoided if they act quickly.
Toscano proposes a number of options to reconvene the General Assembly in a special session on August 16, a date that has already been reserved by legislators in both chambers. He writes, “I hope we can agree that the legislature should exercise its responsibility and act expeditiously to bring us back on August 16 to begin the process of drawing constitutional lines consistent with the court’s opinion and the criteria set forth by the U. S. Supreme Court.”
Over the past several years, House Democrats have consistently introduced legislation to create an independent committee responsible for redistricting, in order to prevent partisan political influences. Republicans in the House have repeatedly killed each bill.