The Supreme Court of Virginia rejected all three of Republicans nominees for special master to work with the Court for redistricting, noting that the nominees had conflicts of interest. The Court also rejected one of the Democratic nominees, noting that he might not be able to perform the job. The Court explained that it was taking the opportunity to more clearly define how it views special masters.
“This Court has not previously addressed the role and requirements for its Special Masters. It is appropriate to do so now,” the Court wrote Friday. “Although the Special Master candidates are to be nominated by legislative leaders of a particular political party, the nominees — upon being appointed by this Court as Special Masters — will serve as officers of the Court in a quasi-judicial capacity. Consequently, the Special Masters must be neutral and not act as advocates or representatives of any one political party.”
The Virginia Redistricting Commission ended with a whimper two weeks ago, when the commission adjourned without formally ending the process. On Monday, a final deadline to complete congressional maps passed without any updates from the commission. According to the constitutional amendment passed by voters, that sends the process to the Virginia Supreme Court. The Court will vote on special masters who will work together to create redistricting plans for both congressional and legislative maps. Each General Assembly caucus proposed three nominees, and the Court will pick one from each party.
On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Richard Saslaw (D-Fairfax) sent a letter to the Court saying that the Republican nominees have “disqualifying conflicts of interest.”
The Virginia Redistricting Commission is hearing public comment on its final draft General Assembly maps, which are due on Sunday October 10. But the Commission is still presenting two sets of maps, one Republican-proposed, and one Democrat-proposed, with no clear path to a consensus on one set of maps that can win with the necessary three-fourths approval from the bipartisan commission. After the hearings this week, the commission is scheduled for a Friday meeting, with an optional Saturday meeting.
“I’m at a loss as to how to go forward,” said Co-Chair Greta Harris on October 2, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.
The Republican Party of Virginia (RPV) State Central Committee (SCC) voted 37 to 31 to issue a call for an in-person drive-in-style nominating convention to be held at Liberty University (LU) on May 8 at 9 a.m. Before passing that vote, the SCC voted against changing party rules to allow an unassembled convention, and voted against holding a canvass. The nearly four-hour-long Tuesday evening Zoom meeting hit the same notes of exasperation as previous SCC Zoom meetings and again highlighted a sharp divide between the pro-convention faction, led in the meeting by Mike Ginsburg, and the pro-primary faction, led in the meeting by Jeff Ryer.
The Virginia General Assembly considered over a dozen constitutional amendments in its two chambers this session; seven of them have been passed in either the House or the Senate. Last week, Senate Minority Leader Thomas Norment (R-James City) criticized the high number.
“I recognize that times change,” he said on the Senate floor. “I recognize that Virginia has changed and I recognize that there is a new cadre of legislators who have a different perspective on what the policies of the commonwealth should be.”
The Virginia General Assembly will convene on Wednesday and a lot of conversation surrounding the annual gathering of state lawmakers this year is not on legislative agendas or hotbed issues under consideration, but on how long the session will last.
Intrigue over the session length began back in mid-November when Republican legislative leaders of the Senate and House of Delegates, Sen. Tommy Norment (R-James City) and Del. Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) announced their intention to limit the session to 30 days
Republican legislators in Virginia are sounding the alarm about risks with new provisions providing prepaid postage and drop boxes for absentee ballots. The provisions come as part of a budget amendment proposed by Governor Ralph Northam.
The amendment provides $2 million to create the ballot drop boxes and to pay postage so that voters do not have to pay to return their ballots. The General Assembly will consider the amendments sometime near the beginning of next week.