Virginia’s election officials urged the Supreme Court on Thursday to keep in place a new, judge-selected redistricting plan for this year’s congressional elections, putting the officials at odds with 10 current and former members of the state's Republican delegation in Congress.
Halting the plan, put in place Jan. 7, would again allow “racial packing" to taint elections following the redistricting that occurred after the 2010 census, the Virginia State Board of Elections said in a brief. The redistricting plan was put in place by a panel of three federal judges.
At issue are the lines drawn for the majority-black district held by Virginia Democrat Rep. Robert C. Scott. A lower court in 2014 found that to be an unconstitutional gerrymander.
That lower court decision is the subject of a Supreme Court challenge from 10 current and former Republican members of Congress: Reps. Rob Wittman, Robert W. Goodlatte, J. Randy Forbes, Morgan Griffith, Scott Rigell, Robert Hurt, Dave Brat and Barbara Comstock and former members Eric Cantor and Frank R. Wolf. The Supreme Court will decide that case before June, in the middle of the 2016 campaign.
But the 10 Republicans also asked the justices last week to stop the Jan. 7 redistricting plan, saying the high court's decision on the gerrymandering case could cause “electoral chaos” and “mass voter confusion” and possibly delay the congressional elections.
Virginia officials argued in the brief that if the state eventually prevails in the appeal on the gerrymandering case, then the commonwealth would have to choose between two bad options: “a third congressional election using racially gerrymandered lines — violating the constitutional rights of 727,365 voters in CD3 for a third congressional election” — or implementing the district court’s plan so late in the cycle as to cause the "very electoral chaos” that the 10 Republicans say they want to avoid.
Attorneys for the voters who initially challenged the election maps argued in a brief Thursday that delaying the Jan. 7 map is an “extraordinary request.”
The lawmakers “ask the court to delay remedying the unconstitutional racial gerrymander of CD3 until the 2018 elections — three years after the district court’s own adoption of a final remedy, four years after the district court’s first order striking down the enacted plan, and five years after [the voters] filed this lawsuit,” the petition states.