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Virginia Supreme Court approves redrawn congressional, General Assembly maps

Police officers stand guard at the entrance to the Supreme Court of Virginia in Richmond in 2020. (Timothy C. Wright/For the Washington Post)
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RICHMOND — The Supreme Court of Virginia on Tuesday unanimously approved new congressional and General Assembly maps, ending a contentious redistricting process that for the first time gave no say to the state’s elected officials.

The court’s action had officials in both parties poring over the maps late into the evening, trying to gauge the fallout from the once-in-a-decade redraw — conducted this year by two special masters appointed by the court after a bipartisan redistricting commission failed to complete the task.

Early this month, the special masters proposed three maps, one carving Virginia into 11 congressional districts, another into 40 state Senate districts and the last into 100 House of Delegates districts. After soliciting public comments on the maps, the special masters made adjustments and then resubmitted them to the court Monday.

Proposed Virginia redistricting maps leave Spanberger miles away from her congressional seat

In a memo sent to the Court, the special masters — Sean Trende, selected by Republicans, and Bernard Grofman, who was Democrats’ choice — said the public input alerted them to instances in which they had inadvertently divided communities of interest.

“[H]earing from residents from all walks of life and from all corners of the Commonwealth gave us a much deeper understanding of the issues involved and brought to our attention things that we had honestly missed,” they wrote.

However, the special masters said they chose not to address one of the chief complaints about the state House and Senate maps — that they did not take into account the addresses of incumbent legislators. As a result, about half of all sitting delegates and senators were doubled- or tripled-up in the original proposal.

While it’s possible that some of those pairings have changed by other tweaks made to the maps, the special masters said they did not consider “incumbency protection” in the new version.

“In consultation with the Court, we have rejected calls to actively educate ourselves further on the residences of incumbents,” they wrote.

The maps drew praise from Liz White, executive director of the anti-gerrymandering group OneVirginia2021.

“While we are still combing through the details of the memo and final district maps, at first glance, we are pleased to see that the Special Masters went above and beyond to incorporate as many specific public comments as possible,” she said in a written statement.

Spokespeople for members of Congress and the state legislative caucuses either did not respond to requests for comment or declined, saying they had not yet analyzed the maps.

One exception was H. Morgan Griffith (R), who took to Twitter to declare he would seek reelection to the 9th District in the state’s rural Southwest.

It was not immediately clear how much the final maps approved Tuesday vary from the proposal rolled out earlier this month. White said that at first glance, the bigger changes appeared to be to the congressional map.

The original proposal for the congressional map had revamped the 7th Congressional District, currently anchored by the Richmond area and represented by Abigail Spanberger (D), and moved it to the Northern Virginia exurbs, including all of Prince William and Stafford counties, and out of the western Richmond suburbs.

In the final map, the 7th shifts southward but still does not include Henrico County, where Spanberger lives, White said.

The new 1st District picks up a big portion of Henrico and Chesterfield counties, two communities that had been separated in the first version and had sought to be united.

The matter went to the Supreme Court after the bipartisan redistricting commission, created after voters approved it in a constitutional amendment in the 2020 election, failed to reach consensus on how the maps should be drawn. Instead, the commission — fractured along partisan lines — couldn’t agree to how the maps should be drawn, triggering the amendment’s fail-safe measure: Let the courts decide.