The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Goldman lost his Virginia House district suit, but the door is open

The Virginia Capitol in November 2019 in Richmond. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

The headlines on the story of how a panel of three federal judges dismissed Paul Goldman’s lawsuit seeking special elections for the House of Delegates this November are as plain as can be: It’s over. Goldman lost.

And that means several rounds of hearty congratulations are in order.

First up: Ex-Attorney General Mark R. Herring (D), who hatched and aggressively pushed the rope-a-dope legal strategy that successfully dragged out the case for months in a transparent attempt to run out the clock on a legal remedy.

Well, done, Mr. Herring. Here’s hoping you are finding life as a private citizen rewarding.

As well Herring should, because even from the netherworld of defeated candidates, he was still calling the legal shots. New Attorney General Jason Miyares (R) eagerly embraced Herring’s cynical, principle-free strategy.

Miyares, a loyal Herring lieutenant to the end, said his office’s court victory meant “there is no more uncertainty for voters and legislators, and that we were able to protect the sanctity of our 2021 elections.”

Though it was amusing to see “voters” inserted in the quote, make no mistake: The Herring/Miyares strategy was always about the convenience of legislators. As for the “sanctity” of the 2021 elections? Somewhere, the late senator Harry Byrd is having a good laugh.

And congratulations go to the state legislators, Republican and Democrat alike, who may have muttered words about being ready to run in November if the court ordered them to but who much preferred to embrace a political omerta where Goldman and his suit were concerned.

These 140 souls — which includes the 40 grandees of the Virginia Senate, a normally loquacious bunch who firmly observed the omerta on this case — will still campaign ceaselessly on their devotion to voting rights (for Democrats) and election integrity (for Republicans). But when it comes to actually having to stand up for those stump-speech favorites when it matters? A “golden silence” follows. So another round of thanks go to them for showing, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they really are in this game for themselves.

As for the three federal judges who ruled in the case, congratulations, of a sort, go to them for ducking the questions of whether the 2021 House elections were constitutional. According to the standard set in a Richmond courtroom 40 years ago, the 2021 districts were “facially unconstitutional.” But the current court didn’t address that matter at all.

Instead, the judges restricted themselves to ruling that Goldman, my former writing partner, didn’t have standing to file the lawsuit in the first place (something the court could have decided months ago).

But they left the door open to someone else picking up the case where Goldman left off. In a footnote, the court addressed author Jeff Thomas, who sought to intervene in the case back in October but was denied, saying he could file his own lawsuit but must indicate it is “related to the instant case.”

Perhaps that also means the Loudoun County NAACP, which also sought to intervene in Goldman’s case but was denied, can step up and finish what Goldman started. That goes for the Virginia branches of the ACLU and the NAACP, both of which said they supported Goldman’s effort but filed no amicus briefs on his behalf.

The time for them to act is now. And given the mountains Goldman has moved in this case so far, they could very well win.

Would it be a long-shot effort? Of course. And it would come with real risk these groups and individuals would irritate the politicians who think they are rid of these noisome challenges to their careers? All the more reason to do it, really.

And all the more reason to save the biggest congratulations for last.

Thanks to Paul Goldman, who fought for what’s right when others chose to look the other way. He showed guts. (Want to know more about Goldman? Get his book). As for Virginia’s politicians? They showed us what they really are: the proud sons and daughters of Harry Byrd and the corrupt Virginia Way.