The Bulletin

Faulting state’s ‘stall tactics,’ judge orders speedy schedule in new Va. redistricting suit

By: - June 13, 2022 12:08 pm

Multiple construction zones surround the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond, Va, June 3, 2022. A judge criticized the state's delay tactics in a lawsuit seeking to force new House of Delegates elections this year. (Parker Michels-Boyce/ For the Virginia Mercury)

A federal judge set an expedited schedule Monday for a just-filed lawsuit seeking new Virginia House of Delegates elections this year, while again blaming state lawyers for trying to run out the clock to potentially avoid that outcome.

Anticipating the Virginia attorney general’s office would raise timing issues to try to beat the suit filed last week by author Jeff Thomas, Judge David J. Novak told the state’s lawyers he wants them to explain “why the delay is not your fault.” Novak specifically criticized former Attorney General Mark Herring’s office for its decision to file an early appeal in the case last year, saying the state’s “stall tactics” had “deprived citizens of the commonwealth who you work for of a chance to be heard.”

“I don’t think you have clean hands,” Novak said, ordering the parties to make their initial filings on the matter by early July.

Had the state not bogged down the case, Novak said, the legal issues could’ve been resolved last fall.

“It is really just not appropriate, the way they handled this case,” Novak said, referring to the appeal by Herring’s office. Current Attorney General Jason Miyares took office while the litigation was pending, but his office has also tried to have the challenge dismissed on largely technical grounds.

The legal challenge centers on Virginia’s delayed redistricting process last year, which forced the 2021 House elections to be run on outdated district lines that hadn’t been properly re-sized to reflect a decade of population changes. The first election under the new districts is scheduled to take place in 2023, but Thomas and others argue Virginians’ voting rights have been violated by allowing current House members to be elected to represent districts that now have wide differences in population size.

The new hearing came shortly after the same judge wrote an opinion dismissing a prior version of the lawsuit filed by Democratic attorney Paul Goldman. Thomas’s lawsuit is slightly different, largely because Thomas lives in a district that was overpopulated for the 2021 races and Goldman’s district was underpopulated. The court’s earlier opinion indicated a voter in Thomas’s situation would have legal standing to sue whereas Goldman did not. Goldman has also indicted he plans to appeal the dismissal of his case.

At Monday’s hearing, Novak also said the state’s arguments that it may be too late “has some teeth to it” given the matter won’t be resolved until after the state’s June 21 congressional primaries. He also faulted Thomas for not filing his own lawsuit earlier instead of waiting to see what happened with Goldman’s case.

“I could’ve handled two lawsuits at the same time,” Novak said.

Novak urged Thomas to avoid the type of “shenanigans” seen in the previous case, pointing specifically to Goldman’s refusal to provide records verifying his voting history because, as Goldman argued, the state already had that information.

“Don’t be cute,” Novak said. “This is not a press show. This is a lawsuit.”

After the hearing, Thomas noted he tried to join Goldman’s lawsuit last October and was denied. He said he has no partisan angle, adding: “I just want my voting rights back.”

Thomas said others might try to join his lawsuit, but Novak seemed reluctant to allow that.

“Right now I’m trucking along with you as fast as I can,” Novak told Thomas.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Graham Moomaw
Graham Moomaw

A veteran Virginia politics reporter, Graham grew up in Hillsville and Lynchburg, graduating from James Madison University and earning a master's degree in journalism from the University of Maryland. Before joining the Mercury in 2019, he spent six years at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, most of that time covering the governor's office, the General Assembly and state politics. He also covered city hall and politics at The Daily Progress in Charlottesville.