Virginia Supreme Court rejects map drawers

By: - November 12, 2021 1:45 pm

The Supreme Court of Virginia in Richmond, Va. (Parker Michels-Boyce/ For The Virginia Mercury)

The Virginia State Supreme Court has rejected three “special master” candidates nominated by Republicans to help redraw Virginia’s legislative lines.

The nominees, the justices said in an order this morning, will serve as officers of the court in a “quasi-judicial capacity” and therefore “must be neutral and must not act as advocates or representatives of any political party.”

The court ordered the Republicans to come up with three new candidates by Monday. It also dropped a Democratic candidate, who was not named, because of his stated concerns about working with another map-drawer as the process requires, and told party members they also had until Monday to come up with another nominee.

The decision came after outcry from Democrats that the Republican nominees had obvious conflicts of interest. “It troubles me that the Republicans would even try this,” says Del. Marcus Simon, D-Fairfax, who had served on the redistricting commission but resigned this week

The court’s decision is the latest turn as the state struggles with a new regime to draw new legislative boundaries for state and federal races next year.  A bipartisan 16-member commission was created by a Constitutional amendment to move the process away from the secretive traditional method employed by the majority party in the General Assembly.

The commission, beset by partisan squabbling, failed to produce the new maps and the task moved to the State Supreme Court, which told both parties to suggest a slate of special masters to draw up maps for U.S. House of Representatives and state Senate and House districts. Of the six candidates, one would be picked from each side. The candidates must have no conflicts of interest.

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Once selected, they would have 30 days to come up with newly-drawn voting district lines based on the latest U.S. census.

Among the GOP nominees was Thomas Bryan, a former member of the U.S. Census Bureau, but Democrats objected, noting that he accepted $20,000 in consulting fees from the Virginia Senate Republican Caucus.

Another was Adam Kincaid, who used to handle redistricting affairs for the National Republican Congressional Committee and is now the executive of the National Republican Redistricting Trust.

The third was Adam Foltz, who handled redistricting work for Republican groups in Wisconsin.

Virginia Democrats complained that all three were highly partisan and had close ties to the Republican Party.

The Democrats nominated academics with no overt party ties. They include Bernard N. Grofman, a professor at the University of California Irvine; and Nathaniel Persily and Bruce E. Cain, both professors at Stanford University.

The court did not say which of the Democratic nominees was being asked to stand down. Liz White, executive director of the advocacy group OneVirginia 2021, said an unnamed Democratic nominee had expressed concerns about having to work with another special master. One person usually carries out such work.

The group had urged the Supreme Court in a letter this week to “select special masters who reflect a track record of nonpartisanship” and “consider the gridlock of the commission and its partisan map drawers as a cautionary tale while they make this important decision.”

Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin, who also served on the redistricting commission, said the court’s decision shows that it “wants to remind us to remove partisanship from the process.”

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Peter Galuszka
Peter Galuszka

Peter Galuszka is a veteran journalist with nearly 50 years of experience. He has written for Style Weekly, the Richmond Times-Dispatch and The Virginian-Pilot. He was executive editor of Virginia Business magazine and spent 15 years at Business Week magazine, where he reported and edited from Moscow, New York and Chicago. Contact: [email protected]