RICHMOND — Virginia Republicans on Wednesday accused Democrats of mounting “a coordinated and disingenuous effort” to block attempts by the legislature to meet a court’s deadline for new legislative districts.
House Speaker Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) notified the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia that lawmakers will meet Sept. 27 to consider redistricting plans. He said the legislature could get something passed by Oct. 30.
That was the deadline set by a three-judge panel of the court after it found on June 26 that 11 House of Delegates districts were unconstitutionally drawn to concentrate black voters.
Gov. Ralph Northam (D) called the General Assembly to a special session on Aug. 30 to take up redistricting, and Democrats unveiled a plan that tinkered with the lines of 29 districts to fix the 11 that didn’t pass muster. Most of the districts affected by the plan are around Richmond, Hampton and Norfolk.
But after GOP leaders declined to set dates for considering the Democrats’ plan or to propose one of their own, Northam last week called on lawmakers to ask the court to draw new boundaries on the state’s behalf. He said the legislature was at an impasse and would not act by the deadline.
On Monday, state Attorney General Mark Herring (D) officially petitioned the court to act.
The Republican reply, filed Wednesday after the court asked for more information, said that “no impasse exists.” It listed 10 times that Republicans have met or consulted with Democrats about the issue since early August, including discussions between Cox and Northam.
It also included a letter Cox sent to Northam and other Democratic leaders, accusing them of misrepresenting the Republicans’ position.
“Our private efforts have been rebuffed numerous times, yet you continue to state publicly that we are not interested in pursuing a remedial plan. That’s just not true,” Cox wrote.
Control of the House of Delegates hangs in the balance in the squabble over redistricting. Last fall’s elections wiped out a two-to-one Republican advantage in the 100-seat House, leaving the GOP with a slim 51 to 49 edge.
The new district boundaries proposed last month by Democrats would have pushed two pairs of current Republican lawmakers into a single district. Cox termed that map “a deeply flawed remedial redistricting plan” in his letter to the Democrats.
Cox said any reasonable plan would not displace any current delegate and would not “substantially alter the partisan makeup of any competitive House districts.”
Republicans said in their court filing that Democrats appear to think having the court draw new districts would give them a “strategic advantage,” and so are creating the perception that lawmakers are at an impasse.
At the same time, the GOP leadership contends that the 11 districts are not unconstitutional. They are appealing the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.