The Governor called the legislature into special session on August 17th to deal with redistricting and to elect judges.
Recently, federal judges affirmed a decision striking down Virginia’s 2011 gerrymandered congressional redistricting plan. The Court found that race was a predominate factor, not just one of many considerations, in crafting the plan
and thereby violated the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
The Governor asked that leaders of both parties meet beforehand to lay the ground work and ensure that we have an open process but the Republican legislators declined, citing potential further appeals of the case.
There are many considerations that should be taken into account when drawing district lines and it is important that they equitably and appropriately balance the influence of all Virginia’s voters and be compact and contiguous. The court ordered new maps to be redrawn by September 1st.
While there was a lot of drama surrounding the special session, both over redistricting and the nomination of a Justice to the Supreme Court of Virginia, in the end committees that were supposed to hold hearings on redistricting were cut short and the Senate of Virginia adjourned. This means that it is up to the court to draw the new lines for Virginia’s congressional districts.
In addition to the congressional map being redrawn there is litigation pending in the Eastern District Court in Alexandria regarding House of Delegates districts. The challenge to the House districts is similar to the challenge made to the congressional districts. Hearings were held in July 2015 and a decision is pending. The court can either uphold the lines or find that they do not comply with federal law and order that they be redrawn.
Leading up to the August special session there was a history-making dispute over the election of a Justice to the Supreme Court of Virginia. Exercising his constitutional right to a recess appointment, Governor Terry McAuliffe appointed Justice Jane Marum Roush of Fairfax to the Supreme Court of Virginia. Historically, when an appointment is given during the recess, the Justice in question is given a hearing during the next General Assembly session to decide whether the Justice should be elected to a full term.
Instead, the Republican leadership decided to elect someone else and not even give Roush a hearing—something that has not happened in over 100 years.
The issue is still ongoing, and the question of the appointment will remain until the next legislative session. Roush’s initial appointment ended thirty days from the time of adjournment, but Governor McAuliffe has already reappointed her to the bench, which will last until January.