The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Federal judges quash effort to force Va. legislative elections this year

The Virginia House of Delegates in a special session at the Capitol in Richmond on June 1. (Daniel Sangjib Min/AP)
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RICHMOND — A panel of federal judges has struck down a lawsuit seeking to force Virginia to hold House of Delegates elections this year under new political boundaries, ruling that the person who brought the suit lacked legal standing.

The 31-page technical finding by a three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia effectively ends the chances of holding a do-over of last year’s General Assembly races, in which Republicans took a slim majority in the House.

“The 2021 Virginia elections were legal and constitutional,” Virginia Attorney General Jason S. Miyares (R), who fought the suit, said Monday in a written statement. “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.”

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Paul Goldman, a lawyer and former chairman of the Democratic Party of Virginia, had claimed in the suit that the state held improper elections last year because they were conducted with outdated political districts based on old U.S. census data.

Virginia was unable to complete the usual redistricting process that takes place once every decade because the federal government was slow last year to release census data, partly because of complications from the coronavirus pandemic.

The state’s new bipartisan redistricting commission eventually bogged down in partisan bickering, so the Supreme Court of Virginia created new maps that will go into effect for 2023 legislative elections. The new maps also shape this year’s congressional elections.

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Goldman had argued that the elections did not provide voters with adequate representation because the old districts are so out of line with current demographics. Some of the 100 House districts hold far more voters than they should, diluting the power of each voter’s ballot, while other districts are underpopulated and each vote effectively counts for more, Goldman argued.

The panel of judges did not rule on the merits of the argument. Instead, they found that Goldman lacked status to bring the suit in part because his home district is underpopulated — meaning his vote would count for more than someone in an overpopulated district.

“[The] plaintiff benefited from overrepresentation during the November 2021 election for the House of Delegates,” District Judge David J. Novak wrote in the ruling, joined by U.S. Circuit Judge Stephanie D. Thacker and Senior U.S. District Judge Raymond A. Jackson.

Novak wrote that Goldman “has not shown that he has suffered individualized disadvantage due to residing in an underrepresented House of Delegates district.”

The judges dismissed the case with prejudice, meaning it is a final judgment and Goldman cannot refile.

“While I have great respect for the Judiciary, the ruling today in effect slashes the right to equal representation in the state legislature as required by the one person one vote principle far worse than any case issued in the last 58 years,” Goldman said in a written statement.

In an interview, he said he was frustrated that no one from a more disadvantaged district had joined him in the case, and said he believed he could still win on appeal.

“But it’s too late now,” Goldman said. “By the time the appeal gets decided it’s not going to be enough time to hold an election.”

Every seat in the Virginia House and Senate is up for election in 2023 under the usual calendar.