Days after the Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal to a lower court's decision tossing out Virginia's 3rd Congressional District boundaries, a special master appointed by the lower court released two proposals to remedy the state's map Tuesday.
University of California, Irvine, political science professor Bernard Grofman, whom a federal three-judge panel appointed as the special master earlier this fall after the state's General Assembly failed to agree upon a new map, rejected the eight existing map proposals.
In Grofman's proposals, the 4th Congressional District would give African-American voters "a realistic opportunity to elect candidates of choice," according to his report.
The federal court twice ruled that Virginia's GOP-controlled legislature violated the Constitution by packing Rep. Robert C. Scott's 3rd District with blacks, thereby diluting their electoral influence in other parts of the state.
"While I have not been involved in the ongoing lawsuit, I believe the Special Master’s report appropriately addresses the constitutional defects of Virginia’s third congressional district," Scott said in a statement Tuesday. "With that said, I am disappointed that the Supreme Court announced last week that it intends to prolong the uncertainty surrounding the constitutionality of the third congressional district. It is unclear how the Court can schedule arguments and issue an opinion without disrupting the schedule for next year’s congressional elections."
GOP Rep. Randy Forbes currently represents the 4th District, which under Grofman's proposed maps, would include all of Richmond and Petersburg.
The black voting age population in the 4th District would rise from 31.3 percent to 40.9 or 42 percent, while the 3rd's would fall from over 56 percent to 42.3 or 45.3 percent, according to the proposals.
"Such a remedial district can be drawn with a substantial minority population that is sufficient to provide minority voters an equal opportunity to elect candidates of choice. Doing so does not require that the district have a black voting age majority," Grofman wrote about the 3rd District.
In both maps Grofman submitted, changes are limited to the 3rd District and those immediately adjacent, and they keep incumbents in their districts. The 3rd District currently touches Rep. Rob Wittman's 1st District, Rep. Scott Rigell's 2nd District, Forbes' 4th District and Rep. Dave Brat's 7th District.
According to his report, Grofman's proposed maps keep the 3rd District "entirely in the Newport News-Hampton-Portsmouth-Norfolk area of the state."
The difference between the two proposals, Grofman wrote, stems from the way that Norfolk and Hampton are split between the 2nd and 3rd Congressional Districts.
Democrats, who currently hold eight of the state's 11 congressional seats, have been hoping to gain at least one seat from the redistricting process, and Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe had called for a "comprehensive redrawing" that would grant Democrats safer turf.
Given that the special master's proposals come on the heels of the Supreme Court agreeing to take an appeal from current and former members of the state's GOP congressional delegation, it's unclear what map will be used for next year's June primary, for which the filing deadline is March 31.
It's possible the state could push the primary back to August, but that would have to be approved by the General Assembly.
The GOP delegation on Monday asked the lower court to "suspend any further proceedings" in light of the Supreme Court taking its appeal.
“I can guarantee the congressman are not happy with the special master putting this out after they had their little victory last Friday," one Republican in the state said Tuesday evening. The GOP delegation released a statement responding to Grofman's plan, saying that an plan should await the Supreme Court's ruling.
"In addition, the special master’s proposals are in error because they depart from the General Assembly’s guiding redistricting principles and go far beyond remedying the identified violation.”