The Capitol at dusk. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)
As the Virginia Redistricting Commission held three interviews with lawyers that might be hired to help redraw the state’s political districts this year, one question stood out from the rest: Who won the 2020 election?
For the two Democratic lawyers, saying President Joe Biden won was never in doubt. But a pair of Republican lawyers agreed with that assessment, even though one of their firms, Taylor English, represented the Trump campaign in its efforts to challenge the result in Georgia.
As he answered questions in a virtual interview Tuesday night, Taylor English partner Bryan Tyson said his firm ultimately withdrew from its work with the Trump campaign and noted the firm had also defended Georgia’s election system against other legal challenges.
“President Biden and Vice President Harris won and there’s no reasonable basis to question that,” Tyson said.
H. Christopher Bartolomucci, a partner at D.C.-based Schaerr Jaffe firm working with Tyson on a joint bid to be the Republican group advising Virginia’s redistricting commission, also said the answer on election legitimacy was “easy.”
“The Biden-Harris ticket won that election,” Bartolomucci said. “They won it in fact. They won it in law. Use any adjective you can come up with. President Biden is the president. He is the winner.”
Though perspectives on the 2020 election may not be a factor in how Virginia redraws its political maps, the question was a pointed litmus test for Republican lawyers interested in doing important work funded by Virginia taxpayers.
As the only Republican group to apply for the work, the team interviewed Tuesday could very well end up getting the Virginia job. The bipartisan, citizen-led commission, going through the process for the first time after being approved by voters in a referendum last year, chose to hire two sets of partisan lawyers for advice as it prepared to redraw Virginia’s legislative and congressional maps this fall when new U.S. Census data arrives.
One of the lawyers vying for the Democratic counsel role, Alexandria-based J. Gerald Hebert, a Voting Rights Act specialist who represented Virginia’s Senate Democratic Caucus during the 2011 redistricting process, a fact he disclosed when asked if he had ever had an attorney-client relationship with any of the commission’s 16 members. During the 2011 process, Hebert said he worked with Sens. George Barker, D-Fairfax, and Mamie Locke, D-Hampton, both of whom are serving as members of the new commission. He indicated he understood that, if hired, he would be expected to offer services to the full commission.
“It would not prohibit me at all from giving independent, honest legal advice,” Hebert said.
The other Democratic lawyer vying for the job is Kareem Crayton, who has worked with the Congressional Black Caucus and several other bodies on redistricting matters.
All the lawyers said they would work to provide the best legal advice they could, collaborate with others even though they may not always agree, and not allow partisanship to cloud their view of the facts at hand.
When the interviews were over, the commission went into closed session to deliberate. It wasn’t immediately clear when the winning lawyers would be chosen, or if the commission would try to find a way to work with all three bidders given the small number of respondents. The commission is planning to undergo additional negotiations with the firms after the interviews.
Del. Marcus Simon, D-Fairfax, who pushed for the interviews to be held in public instead of in closed session, asked the question about the 2020 outcome. His inquiry was twofold: Who won and is there any legal basis to question the outcome?
“I think the courts have settled the matter,” Crayton replied.
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