Lawsuit aims to force Virginia House elections in 2021, 2022 and 2023

Richmond

House speaker Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, at rostrum, listen as House majority leader, Del. Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria, on monitor, speaks in an empty Virginia House of Delegates chamber during a Zoom Legislative session at the Capitol in Richmond, Va., Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A former chairman of the Democratic Party of Virginia has launched a legal effort to force three straight years of elections for the House of Delegates.  

Richmond attorney Paul Goldman argues House elections this fall “will be done under an unconstitutional redistricting plan” in a federal lawsuit seeking a court order for an election in 2022 with updated political maps.  

Districts used in the 2019 elections were drawn by a court-appointed expert and approved by a federal court after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the maps created under the Republican-led state legislature in 2011 were racially gerrymandered.

Virginia’s Constitution requires the state’s redistricting commission, a newly-created panel tasked with redrawing the state’s congressional and legislative districts, to submit its plans to the General Assembly “no later than 45 days” after receiving 2020 census data. With redistricting data from the U.S. Census Bureau not expected until mid-August, Virginians will likely vote under the current map when all 100 House seats are on the ballot on Nov. 2.

An amended complaint from Goldman, filed July 6 in the U.S. District Court for Eastern District of Virginia, claims plans to use existing legislative districts for this year’s House elections violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and sections of the state’s constitution.

“Upon information and belief, those in charge of insuring that the laws of Virginia are faithfully executed and those in charge of overseeing the legality of state elections have decided to conduct the upcoming 2021 General Election for the House of Delegates that is substantially out of date and would do great harm to the principle of one person, one vote,” Goldman’s lawsuit claims.

The lawsuit against Gov. Ralph Northam and the State Board of Elections cites the federal court decision Cosner v. Dalton, which made way for House elections in 1981, 1982 and 1983. While Goldman states he’s a prospective House candidate in his lawsuit, he told 8News he’s considering a run when the new districts are implemented.

“According to Cosner, plaintiffs protected core political rights should allow him to run for the House of Delegates in 2022, not being forced to wait until 2023 due to the failure of the appropriate state authorities to adhere to the requirements of the state constitution,” Goldman argues in the complaint.

Goldman is asking the court to limit the House candidates who win during this year’s election to one-year terms and to order an election in 2022 with the new districts. With the House having off-year elections, there would be contests in 2021, 2022 and 2023 if the court agrees with the lawsuit.

Despite the census delay, Goldman said he believes the redistricting commission could have asked the court to provide guidance on how to move forward. “They don’t have the right to just not do their job,” he said in an interview. “The court would relieve them of their duty if they do.”

The Virginia Redistricting Commission acknowledges it likely won’t have a redrawn map by November and that “it is for an appropriate authority to determine how the Commission may fulfill its constitutional obligations.”

Goldman, the Democratic Party of Virginia’s chairman from 1990-1993, said he believes lawmakers have not voiced concerns over running under the same map because they want to protect their positions in the legislature.

“It’s an incumbent protection act. I don’t think the incumbents want to run three years in a row. They don’t care if their districts are redrawn,” Goldman said.

Del. Marcus Simon (D-Fairfax), one of the state delegates on Virginia’s Redistricting Commission, contested the argument that the commission could use available census data for the map-drawing.

While the state constitution doesn’t clearly define the data the commission can use, as Goldman’s lawsuit points out, Simon said counsel has told commission members that redistricting data is not interchangeable with other data from the Census Bureau.

“Yes, all of it’s from the census but the data has a purpose. Apportionment or other data from the bureau is not intended for the redistricting process,” Simon said in an interview.

Simon noted that he understands Goldman’s position and reason for the suit, but said he was unsure about the legal standing due to the different circumstances from 1981. “This year’s delay in the census wasn’t a deliberate act. In 1981, it was about depriving voters fair representation.”

The delegate added that he’s proud of the work the bipartisan commission has done but admitted he’s “a little nervous” about not having a clear vision of how the redistricting process will come together in the end.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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