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Is Virginia's redistricting saga finally over?

Redistricting Proposal B3.png
Virginia Redistricting Commission
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A proposal for House of Delegates districts by consultants hired to represent Democrats' interests during the redistricting process. Ultimately the independent commission tasked with drawing political maps failed after a series of failed votes and deadlock.

A Monday court ruling dismissing a high-stakes redistricting case may be the end of Virginia’s long and dysfunctional redistricting drama. A federal court ruled that Paul Goldman, an activist lawyer, didn’t prove he had standing to sue in his bid to have a special election for the House of Delegates this fall.

Census delays had prevented Virginia from drawing new political districts in time for last year’s elections, so House of Delegates members currently represent districts that no longer exist.

Attorney General Jason Miyares argued that the elections were legal and constitutional, but the court didn’t weigh in on that question directly.

The case presented serious issues - some of the districts that were used to elect the current delegates had nearly twice as many as others. Goldman sued in June of last year, but after moving between different federal courts, and late or nonexistent responses from Goldman and the Attorney General’s office, respectively, the case dragged on very close to when elections would need to be held, complicating the lawsuit.

Miyares’ Democrat predecessor Mark Herring also fought the lawsuit, successfully removing some defendants and contributing to the suit extending into this year.

Goldman maintains that if other people were able to join the case, the case could have been decided earlier. Most civic and political groups had chosen not to. While the NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia both supported the prospects of early elections, they didn’t join the lawsuit.

“This whole standing argument would have been decided months ago and we would’ve got a decision on the merits,” he said in an interview, not expressing regret for the nearly year-long effort.

“You got to do what you think is right. You win some, you lose some in this business. It's just life,” he said. “If you're fighting for change, by definition, you're going to lose more times than not. And that's just reality.”

In his statement Miyares said, “I’m glad that the court agreed with my office, that there is no more uncertainty for voters and legislators, and that we were able to protect the sanctity of our 2021 elections.”

The opinion from a three judge panel, written by US District Judge David Novak, said that Goldman didn’t prove standing as a voter or a potential candidate.

House of Delegates elections will be in the fall of 2023, as scheduled, on districts drawn by two experts chosen by the Virginia Supreme Court.

The election could be a serious realignment of political power within the General Assembly, as dozens of incumbents are grouped in similar districts and many districts have no current legislators living in them.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Jahd Khalil is a reporter and producer in Richmond.
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