RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia House Republicans laid out their case to the Supreme Court of the United States, to appeal a redistricting case that set the process in motion to make new house voting district maps.
Last June, a court found 11 House districts were racially gerrymandered, which means the district lines were drawn in a way that separated voters by race. The map was originally drawn in 2011, using census data from the year before.
A new map, drawn by an independent mapmaker selected by the courts, was selected a few weeks ago. According to analysis from the Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP), more than 370,000 voters were shuffled into new districts. Six currently Republican-held districts also lean more Democrat, including those belonging to House Speaker Kirk Cox (R-District 66) and Del. Chris Jones (R-District ), the chair of the appropriations committee.
House Speaker Cox felt the justices were receptive to the arguments they presented, noting that justices focused more on the case as opposed to whether or not the highest court had the standing to make a decision on the proceedings.
“Most people would probably say more questions than you’d probably get…from both liberal and conservative justices,” Speaker Cox said.
One of the key points highlighted by the justices, Speaker Cox says, is the support the original map had in 2011.
“They made the point that two of the black caucus members voted against the original plan,” he said.
Then-Senator Ralph Northam also voted in favor of it.
When asked about this, the current chair of the Legislative Black Caucus Del. Lamont Bagby (D-District 74) said the caucus had to work with whatever plan they could.
“It’s one of those things that if you’re in the minority, you behave like you’re in the minority,” Del. Bagby said. “So, you try to get the best plan that you can possibly get, but knowing at the end of the day the majority will rule.”
Currently, all 100 House seats and all 40 Senate seats are up for election this year. The primary is set for June 11.The districts are set up following the most recently drawn maps that were approved by the court.
This could all change depending on the decision by the Supreme Court, which is not expected to come until the late spring or this summer.
“We asked early on that basically the calendar be moved back – that the primaries be in September and not in June because we anticipated this problem, but that wasn’t agreed to which is fine, we are where we are,” Speaker Cox said.
“All of the communities, whether it’s Democrats, Republicans, House, Senate, administration, everyone’s anxious to find out what SCOTUS decides to do,” Del. Bagby said.
Moving forward, the General Assembly is the process of creating an independent mapmaking group to oversee this process. On the last day of the legislative session, both the House and Senate passed a constitutional amendment to form this commission, proposed by Del. Mark Cole (R-District 88). It has to pass next year too before it can go to voters. Some lawmakers hoped to have this through before the next series of voting district maps are drawn in 2021.
A number of lawmakers on the Legislative Black Caucus voted against this plan, including Del. Bagby.
“This will be the first year, the first time and go around that African Americans will have a significant voice,” Bagby said. “his plan that’s put before us will dilute that, the African American voice. It doesn’t even guarantee that an African American will be in the room.”