Virginia Voters Fight GOP Tactics to Preserve Gerrymandering

WASHINGTON (CN) – Saying that there is no time to waste when it comes to correcting Virginia’s gerrymandered election districts, the state and a group of voters urged the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday not to give Republican lawmakers a stay. 

Signed by state Solicitor General Toby Heytens, the 22-page response brief appeared in Washington just ahead of Thursday’s noon deadline. Heytens accused the GOP-controlled state House of trying to not only undo the will of two judicial bodies but also the people of Virginia.

“This stay litigation underscores the problems with the notion that a single chamber of a bicameral state legislature may initiate an appeal — and thus prolong litigation — on behalf of an entire State,” the brief states. 

Contesting that the legislative branch lacks standing the bring the challenge, let alone request a stay of the court-ordered replacement map, Heytens admonished Republicans for prolonging an already 4-year-case and exceeding its duty. 

“The House has no role in administering Virginia elections, and the state election officials who are responsible for ensuring ‘an orderly elections process,’ agree with the district court that a stay is neither necessary nor in the public interest at this point,” the brief states.  

It was back in 2015 that a three-judge panel in U.S. District Court rejected the first version of the underlying lawsuit, which accused Virginia of racially gerrymandering 12 election districts.

Though the Supreme Court was positioned to settle the case last year, it instead upheld one district and sent the 11 remaining district back for a second look in District Court. On remand, the District Court found that the 11 districts were gerrymandered, and a professor from the University of California at Irvine has been working on submitting a new map.

Representing Virginia’s Republican House, Kirkland and Ellis attorney Paul Clement lobbied the Supreme Court last week to issue a stay.

“There is a very real prospect that this Court will vacate and reverse the decision below, either in whole or in part,” Clement wrote. “Such a ruling would leave undisturbed some or all of the 11 challenged districts in the duly enacted legislative map, which would mean that those districts govern the next House general election slated for November 2019, just as they have governed the previous four elections since the 2010 census.” 

This upcoming election cycle will be massively important to both parties. In 2017 the state coined the phrase “blue wave” when the long-time GOP dominated House was reduced to a 51-49 majority with one race being so close it was literally decided by pulling a name out of a bowl. 

Political observers are unsure about how the court might rule, but those on the right understand Cox’s efforts even if they seem slim.

Shawn Kenney, former executive director of the state’s Republican party, called Cox’s argument a “cable,” not a thread, but “the risk is the cable could snap at any time.” 

He argues that the GOP seems to be doing its best to delay the implementation of any map. 

After the 2017 successes by the left, he sees his party leaders as nervous about what could happen under the new maps which they argue are more favorable to Democrats. 

With the very real possibility of the left taking control of both the House and the Senate, and Democratic Governor Ralph Northam in the executive, House Republicans would lose the chance to make new legislative maps after the 2020 census. 

But Kenney thinks there’s also problems with delaying the ruling.

“You could have primaries in August or September, leaving only 60 days before election,” he said, noting all 40 state Senate seats are up for grabs this year which could be further complicated by shifting electoral deadlines. “You could also have House Primaries where the Senate candidate is in the fight of their lives against their Democratic opponent. What happens when they are forced to back a GOP primary candidate and that’s not something the House or Senate GOP is going to want.”

Also on Thursday, a brief on behalf of voters led by Golden Bethune-Hill was filed with the Supreme Court. This second brief is signed by Perkins Coie attorney Marc Elias.

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