Gov. Bob McDonnell has signed legislation that remaps Virginia’s congressional districts, but the state faces a lawsuit over the General Assembly’s authority to pass a redistricting bill a year later than the state’s constitution requires.
McDonnell signed the bill last night, a development that became public only after Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s office released a statement today about a ruling in a lawsuit filed in Richmond Circuit Court.
The court denied a motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by six plaintiffs over the new congressional redistricting plan. The plaintiffs assert that the state constitution required lawmakers to pass a redistricting plan in 2011 — something that didn’t happen because of partisan gridlock in the state Capitol. A Cuccinelli spokesman said the effect of the court’s opinion is to divest the General Assembly of its authority to pass a bill this year.
Cuccinelli argues that the circuit court has exceeded its authority and wants the state Supreme Court to intervene. Time is of the essence, since congressional elections will take place this year and primaries will be held in June.
“Given the impending elections and deadlines associated with the federal Voting Rights Act, my office is seeking immediate intervention by the Supreme Court of Virginia,” said Cuccinelli in a statement released by his office. “We are filing a writ of prohibition, seeking a ruling that the circuit court’s ruling exceeds its jurisdiction. We are also seeking an immediate appeal of the order and a stay of further proceedings in the circuit court until the Virginia Supreme Court has ruled.”
The Republican-crafted redistricting bill sailed through the General Assembly this month, with Democrats now lacking the votes to stop it in the Senate. The plan adjusts the boundaries of the state’s 11 congressional districts to account for population shifts reflected in the 2010 census. It preserves the core of each of the state’s existing districts.
Senate Democrats complained that the plan packs black voters into the 3rd Congressional District, which is represented by the state’s only black representative, Democrat Robert “Bobby” Scott of Newport News. Democrats contend the plan dilutes black voting strength in three adjacent districts — all of them represented by Republicans.
– Michael Sluss