GOP challenges redistricting

Published 2:23 pm Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Ask SCOTUS for status quo until review


By Matt Leonard

Staff writer

Ten current and former Republican lawmakers have filed for a stay to the U.S. Supreme Court in the case that resulted in the redrawing of Virginia’s 3rd and 4th Congressional Districts.

The application filed to Chief Justice John Roberts on Jan. 13 called the redrawing of lines “unprecedented” and said it could cause “irreparable harm.”

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The stay, if approved, would revert the district lines to where they were prior to the appellate court decision to redraw earlier this month. This would place Isle of Wight back into the 4th District, represented by Republican Congressman J. Randy Forbes, who is one of the lawmakers applying for the stay. 

The new districts imposed by the court place Isle of Wight in the 3rd District represented by Democratic Congressman Bobby Scott. This will remain the case until SCOTUS comments on the appeal. Roberts must comment before Jan. 21 at 4 p.m. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″} 

The lines were redrawn by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals after a three-judge panel concluded that Republican lawmakers packed black voters into the 3rd, a practice known a racial gerrymandering.

“The whole situation is very difficult,” said Rebecca Green, who specializes in election law at the College of William and Mary.

She said the appellate decision is not unprecedented and that courts have made the decisions on drawing lines in the past, specifically when they find current lines to be unlawful and the legislature fails to redraw, as happened in Virginia.

Generally, Green said, it is up to the legislature because the Constitution gives them that power. Multiple times throughout the application the council cites SCOTUS’ opinion that districts drawn by legislators “are to be preferred to judicially constructed plans.”

The court only redrew the lines for the 3rd District after they ordered Virginia’s legislators to do the job and the General Assembly failed to complete the task in a special session last year.

“It is the case in several instances that courts have relied on a special master to redraw lines,” Greene said. In 2011, the Connecticut Supreme Court had to redraw lines after a committee was unable to do so.

The special master is someone who actually draws the lines and gives options to the court. Bernard Grofman of University of California, Irvine did this in Virginia.

In the application for a stay, attorneys for the lawmakers claim that the timing of the appeal court decision is the major problem. They say if the Supreme Court overturns the decision this summer it would result in “electoral chaos, mass voter confusion, an immense waste of taxpayer and private resources, and, depending on the timing of the reversal, postponement of congressional general elections.”

The general election takes place on Nov. 8 and many think the newly drawn lines will result in another Democratic seat in Virginia’s federal representation.

Green agreed that the “unrelenting schedule of elections” makes the process more difficult, but that schedule is the entire reason the court has made the decision it did; but it is also the reasoning behind the application for a stay.

The application says the decision will cause candidates to run a “two-front campaign” because they won’t know what SCOTUS will decide.

Then there is the issue of whether the federal appeals court was allowed to make a decision on redrawing lines while SCOTUS was considering the same case.

Green said there isn’t really any yes or no answer to the legality of this and that will have to be decided in court. {/mprestriction}