Aug. 20, 2015 — There won’t be a new congressional map coming from the Virginia legislature and governor, after all. In early June, based upon their previous ruling and subsequent US Supreme Court decisions, a federal three-judge panel ordered the state legislature to re-draw, by Sept. 1, the southeastern part of Virginia after affirming that Congressional District 3 — Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Newport News) is illegal.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) called the special legislative session for purposes of complying with the judicial ruling, but the members have already left Richmond. The map will revert to the court, where the judges will presumably draw the new map themselves.
Judicial maneuvering, and not congressional politics, caused the session to close less than a day after it began. Virginia is one of two states, South Carolina being the other, that gives judicial appointment responsibility to the legislature. The governor, during times of recess, has the right to fill judicial vacancies.
Such was the case in late July when Gov. McAuliffe appointed Fairfax Circuit Judge Jane Marum Roush to fill a vacancy on the state’s high court. The legislature must certify the appointment within 30 days of convening in regular session. Upon certification, the appointed judge serves a 12-year term.
Majority Republicans made it clear that they intended to replace Roush with state Appellate Judge Rossie Alston, a conservative African-American judge formerly employed at the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.
With one Republican senator absent, the Democrats gained parity with Republicans. Hence, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) could break a tie. The Democrats moved to adjourn the special session as a way of postponing the judicial vote until next January, when the legislature once again convenes in regular session. The vote carried, meaning no lines will be drawn in the now completed special session.
This places the map solely in the hands of the three-judge panel. Realistically, yesterday’s action didn’t particularly change things. It was highly unlikely that the Republican legislature and Gov. McAuliffe would have agreed on one plan, so the panel would likely have drawn the map, anyway. But, with a lawsuit against the original ruling already before the US Supreme Court, it could be awhile, should the high court hear the case, before this situation is resolved.
Rep. Scott’s district, which is majority African American, begins in Richmond, travels south to annex the city of Petersburg, and then proceeds southeast along the York River on the Virginia peninsula, grabbing a part of Newport News, the city of Hampton, and the city of Norfolk.
Changing the district will directly affect two adjacent Republican members, representatives Scott Rigell (R-VA-2) and Randy Forbes (R-VA-4). Rigell represents the city of Virginia Beach, and part of Newport News, along with the Virginia portion of the Delmarva Peninsula.
VA-2 is one of 26 seats that supported President Obama in 2012 (50.1 percent) and elected a Republican US House member two years later. Therefore, it won’t take many more Democrats being added, which can easily be done by giving him more of Newport News or part of Hampton, and sending Virginia Beach Republicans to another CD.
Rep. Forbes, originally elected in a 2001 special election, represents a Tidewater area seat that includes his home city of Chesapeake, the city of Suffolk, and then wraps around to attach more rural and suburban areas all the way to outer Richmond.
Once the map is drawn, it is likely that one or possibly both of these now Republican seats could fall to the Democrats. At the very least, they will both become more competitive and both representatives Rigell and Forbes will likely face major challenges once the new districts take effect.