Six Virginia residents have asked a federal court to draw new congressional districts for the state, arguing that the General Assembly has failed to enact a redistricting plan and won’t get the job done before the year ends.
A lawsuit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Alexandria seeks to have a three-judge panel invalidate Virginia’s current congressional districts and draw a new map that would take effect for the 2012 elections. The plaintiffs reside in Northern Virginia, Fredericksburg, Richmond and Chesapeake.
The suit names the state board of elections, Gov. Bob McDonnell, Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli as defendants.
The politically divided General Assembly has failed to pass a congressional redistricting plan this year and leaders in both houses concede that no agreement will be reached this year, as required by the state constitution. House of Delegates Speaker Bill Howell, R-Stafford County, said last week that lawmakers will move quickly to pass a bill after the General Assembly convenes in January, when Republicans will have working majorities in both chambers.
But Alexandria attorney Gerald Hebert, who represents the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said that will be too late because the state constitution requires the legislature to pass a redistricting plan in 2011. And, because of federal Voting Rights Act requirements, Virginia’s redistricting plan must get “preclearance” from the Department of Justice or a federal court. That could take at least 60 days and bump up against candidate filing deadlines, according to the lawsuit.
Hebert has represented Democrats at the state and national levels in redistricting matters. But Hebert said in a phone interview that the lawsuit filed Wednesday is not associated with the state Democratic Party or Senate Democrats, who lost their majority in last week’s elections.
Hebert said the plaintiffs live in districts that are “malapportioned” after the 2010 census.
The Senate and House passed competing redistricting plans earlier this year but have failed to reconcile differences between the proposals. The major disagreement involves the apportionment of black voters in two congressional districts between Richmond and Hampton Roads.
Roanoke also figures in the dispute. The House plan leaves the city in the 6th District, represented by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Roanoke County. The district would extend east to Lynchburg and north through the Shenandoah Valley.
The Senate’s plan would put Roanoke in the 9th District, which extends to to far Southwest Virginia. Republican Morgan Griffith of Salem was elected to represent the district last year. Both plans have Salem in the 9th District.
– Michael Sluss