By Jim Ellis
May 25, 2016 — Monday, the US Supreme Court unanimously rejected the Virginia Republican congressional delegation’s lawsuit to overturn the new court-ordered federal district map. The high court ruled that the delegation did not have legal standing to bring the suit.
Since this was the final legal hurdle to making the new map permanent, it is now virtually assured that the Virginia map will remain intact for the remainder of the decade.
To review, back in mid-2015, a three-judge federal panel invalidated Rep. Bobby Scott’s (D-Newport News) 3rd District, thus forcing a re-draw of the Tidewater area. In 2011, when originally crafting the map, the Republican map drawers made a basic mistake that eventually forced this geographic segment to fail.
Under previous court orders and legal precedent, when a federal district crosses a body of water it must remain in “line of sight” in order to adhere to the contiguous district requirement. The original 3rd CD violated this condition because it connected disparate regions along the James River. The 2011 3rd District, like the one that was drawn in 2001, began in Richmond and traveled southeast to the Norfolk area to encompass that city, the city of Portsmouth, and other land area portions around the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay.
After declaring the 3rd District invalid four years after it had been drawn, the Tidewater area was reconfigured. This is what forced Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Chesapeake) to move into the new 2nd District, the seat covering Virginia Beach, which then jumps the Bay to include the strip of land around Norfolk, through Yorktown, and up to Jamestown. The 2nd, as in the previous draw, then also includes the Virginia portion of the Delmarva Peninsula. While this district also includes water, the connecting areas are within the line of sight making the draw legal.
Rep. Forbes’ 4th District continues to include part of the Chesapeake/Suffolk area, but now swings through Petersburg and includes the capital city of Richmond. Thus, VA-4 becomes a Democratic seat and state Sen. Donald McEachin (D-Richmond) is favored to win the June 14th Democratic primary and the district in November. He will have strong general election opposition from Henrico County GOP Sheriff Mike Wade – who was originally going to challenge Rep. Dave Brat (R-Glen Allen/Henrico) before the re-draw changed his focus – but the new 4th will decidedly favor a Democrat in November (Obama ’12: 60.9%).
While the Republicans will lose a Virginia district and likely see the delegation drop from 8R-3D to 7R-4D, they are not without some benefit from the new map. With representatives Scott Rigell (R-Virginia Beach) and Robert Hurt (R-Chatham/ Charlottesville) both retiring, what would have been politically marginal open 2nd and 5th Districts now become safely Republican. In order to create Democratic Districts 3 and 4, liberal voters from those two seats were moved from the 2nd and 5th. Therefore, while Republicans lose one of their seats, two potentially competitive seats now become safe.
Rep. Forbes is running in the 2nd District, a constituency in which he currently represent no one, and has June 14th Republican primary opposition from Virginia Beach state Delegate Scott Taylor. But, the GOP winner will hold the seat in November as Democrats put forth only a minor candidate.
In the open 5th CD, state Sen. Tom Garrett (R-Hadensville/Palmyra/ Charlottesville) won the Republican district convention and is now the strong favorite to defeat Albemarle County Commission chair Jane Dittmar (D) in November.