The Virginia Redistricting Commission is scrambling to find more time to finalize General Assembly draft maps ahead of a series of public hearings on October 4-7. On Monday, the commission saw separate sets of draft maps proposed by the two partisan map-drawing teams. On Thursday, it saw a consensus of four Senate district maps from Southwest Virginia where both teams’ proposed districts had more than 90 percent of the population in common. But Thursday’s meeting was largely occupied by debates over when to provide political data to map drawers, and about creating additional instructions about creating districts where minorities can control the vote.
As a result, with just three meetings currently scheduled before public hearings, the commission has only considered how to blend the two partisan proposals in the four easiest districts from the Senate, and has not considered how to handle the partisan House proposals.
“We need more time,” Co-chair Mackenzie Babichenko (R) said. “I think we’re going to want more time if we’re going to go through and look at all these decisions.”
“I’m just wondering if we should book the whole week,” Co-Chair Greta Harris (D) said. “Because next week is it. We haven’t started really on the house maps, we are a third of the way through the senate maps.”
At the beginning of the meeting, Babichenko said that incumbent addresses had been released to the map drawers at the advice of both Republican and Democratic legal teams. Multiple commission members spoke out against the decision.
Babichenko explained, “All the attorneys said the time is now to consider the incumbent addresses even though that is something the public generally does not want. We understand that. It was always going to be considered because that was part of the criteria the legislature passed. So political fairness is something we must consider.”
Senator Ryan McDougle (R-Hanover) argued that incumbent data should be considered last, after the commission had more time to consider public comment about the districts.
“I hope that we’re not going to take speed over getting it right,” he said.
Then, the commission returned to the issue of the required majority-minority districts. Commissioners from both parties worried about having fewer minority-controlled districts than in previous maps, but split over whether or not to establish a base line number to map drawers or provide other guidance. Both legal teams said current guidance was adequate, and giving a specific minimum number of majority-minority districts could lead to legal trouble.
Near the end of the meeting, the commission finally heard from map drawers about the slight differences in the four southwest Senate districts, and whether the map-drawers should prioritize keeping some towns all in one district, or keep the district closer to ideal population targets.
At the end of that discussion, Commissioner Richard Harrell (R) said, “If we don’t proceed faster, we will never get through. This is only four out of forty, and we’ve got a hundred house districts. So we’ve got to figure out a way to get through this quicker,”
Supreme Court Denies Request for Mandamus and Injunction in Lawsuit Against Commission
Senator Travis Hackworth (R-Tazewell) is part of a group suing the commission over HB 1255, a 2020 law that counts incarcerated people at their former address instead of at their current prison. Hackworth and the other plaintiffs say the localities will still be forced to bear the burden of caring for incarcerated people, while losing political representation, and that the law was not a constitutional amendment, yet the General Assembly used it to circumvent the new redistricting amendment.
The petition asked the court to issue a writ of mandamus or prohibition to command the commission, the State Board of Elections, and the Virginia Department of Elections to disregard the law when creating districts. They also sought a permanent injunction blocking HB 1255’s changes from being considered in future redistricting cycles.
But the court argued that writs of mandamus are used in extraordinary situations, and used to command action, while injunctions are used to command inaction. The court said that prohibitions are only used from higher courts to lower courts, not other parties. It also denied the request for injucntion, based on the Virginia Constitution’s section describing judicial jurisdiction.
“This Court’s original jurisdiction is constitutionally limited and therefore we do not grant a permanent injunction,” the court ruled.
– – –