Contempt Finding Against Senators Tossed

     (CN) — Virginia senators should not have been held in contempt for refusing to turn over documents relating to voter redistricting maps, the state’s highest court ruled.
     Rima Ford Vesilind and 13 other plaintiffs sued the Virginia State Board of Elections in September 2015.
     They claimed that 11 legislative districts were unconstitutional because they either were not compact, not contiguous or did not have populations similar to those in other districts.
     Later that year, six Virginia senators and the Division of Legislative Services received subpoenas seeking documents relating to the electoral district maps.
     The senators tried to quash the subpoenas, citing legislative privilege. The Richmond Circuit Court responded with an opinion regarding the scope of the privilege and ordered the senators to follow it while responding to the subpoenas.
     Eventually, the court found the senators in contempt and fined them $100 each per day. They appealed.
     The Virginia Supreme Court quashed the subpoenas and overturned the contempt finding on Sept. 15 in an opinion written by Chief Justice Donald Lemons.
     He stated that the history of legislative privilege dates back to the English Parliament in 1512.
     “Legislative privilege arose in the young American nation from the same underlying principles, combined with the uniquely American emphasis on separation of powers and representative government,” Lemons noted.
     The purpose of the privilege is “to protect the legislature from intrusion by the other branches of government and to disentangle legislators from the burden of litigation and its detrimental effect on the legislative processes,” he added.
     In addition, Lemons stated that the DLS is also protected by the privilege.
     “Legislators must be free to accomplish legislative tasks through agents, including and especially to obtain assistance in legislative drafting from the experienced staff at DLS,” he wrote. “Focusing on function affords the legislator the ability to make use of agents with particular areas of expertise and to delegate substantial workloads.”

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