RICHMOND — A panel of federal judges on Wednesday denied Republicans’ request to delay a court order to redraw a Virginia elections map that was found to illegally pack African Americans into a single congressional district at the expense of their influence elsewhere.
The ruling increases the likelihood that state legislators will have to abide by a call from Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) to return to Richmond this month to tackle redistricting.
The Republican-controlled General Assembly has been reluctant to accept an earlier court ruling that set a Sept. 1 deadline to adopt new congressional district boundaries. Republicans requested an extension to Nov. 16 to give their congressional counterparts time to exhaust an appeal to the Supreme Court.
In a statement, House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) and Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr. (R-James City) said they were disappointed by the court’s having denied the request for more time.
“We continue to believe that an extension would have preserved the right of the defendants to fully litigate this case, while still giving ample time for the Commonwealth to prepare in advance of the 2016 Congressional elections,” they said in a statement. “We are evaluating our next steps.”
In response to the ruling, McAuliffe said it is obvious that the current congressional map seeks to disenfranchise African American voters.
“It is now time for legislative leaders to produce a plan,” he said in a statement. “I am committed to a fair process that ensures that their fundamental right to fair elections is not drowned out by politically manipulated computer programs and cynical attempts to undermine the voting strength of minority voters.”
Last week, McAuliffe asked for — and Virginia Republicans rejected — a request to meet ahead of the special session to work out a compromise on the map.
He could veto a new redistricting map passed by the General Assembly, a decision that experts say would give the courts the power to set district boundaries. Of the state’s 11 congressional seats, Republicans hold eight and Democrats three.
A majority of a three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia ruled that Republicans didn’t prove that their appeal was likely to succeed or that adhering to the Sept. 1 deadline would pose significant problems. The dissenting judge, Robert E. Payne, said he could have granted the extension.
The legal challenge that began this litigation is separate but similar to one that challenges the concentration of minority voters in 12 state House of Delegates districts. The court is still deliberating on that case.