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SCOTUS Steps In
By Stephen J. Rossie

Square2017 imageRICHMOND, VA – The House Republican majority continues to live on the edge. First, and most remarkably, it got clobbered in the 2017 elections as its 60-plus seat majority got whittled down to 50 after the votes were counted, recounts completed and legal challenges resolved. It reached 51, literally, by the luck of the draw, as Delegate David Yancy’s (R-Newport News) name was picked out of a bowl to determine the winner of a tied vote.

Earlier this month it won a special election in the Salem area to hold a seat that was vacated when former Delegate Greg Habeeb (R-Salem) retired. Now it must hold on to a Lexington-area seat that opened November 6 when Delegate Ben Cline (R-Amherst County) was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.

While that district is considered reliably red, anything can happen in a special election, which will be run on a condensed schedule, during a season when politics is the last thing on peoples’ minds, and when the opposition can spend tens of thousands of dollars quicker than the average Virginian can buy a stocking stuffer.

But the Republican high wire act isn’t limited to the ballot box. It has been wobbling in the federal court system as well, most recently in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled current House districts pack too many minorities into majority-minority districts, despite the fact that the last map was overwhelmingly approved by the House, including black Democrat delegates. This was in keeping with court precedents that basically mandated majority-minority districts. Who’s manipulating voters, here? Not the General Assembly, which solely has the constitutional authority to draw electoral maps.

Earlier this year, the Fourth Circuit ordered the House to draw up new districts or have a new map forced on it by the court. When the House GOP and Democrats couldn’t agree on a compromise during a fall special session, and with Democrat Governor Ralph Northam’s threatened veto if the Republicans pushed it through, the session ended.

Now, with the Fourth Circuit on the verge of drawing new districts and House Republicans into permanent minority oblivion, the U.S. Supreme Court has stepped in to hear the GOP’s appeal. While that sounds like a lifeline, the court has asked for briefs to determine whether the majority has standing to file the appeal, which it is filing because Democrat Attorney General Mark Herring refused to after his office lost the case. It is yet another episode in the commonwealth’s chief legal officer’s pockmarked tenure where he has violated his constitutional oath to defend Virginia law.

Also complicating matters is that no stay was placed on the Fourth Circuit’s order. House Speaker Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) said he is considering all options, including a motion with the lower court to delay its action until the High Court — with two new justices since it last ruled against Republicans in a Virginia electoral map case — rules on the appeal.

A resolution needs to happen fast or else the Fourth Circuit’s map could be in play for the spring General Assembly primaries. If the Supreme Court subsequently rules in favor of the GOP, there could be do-overs for party nominations. It all begs the question of how can maps that are practically 50-50 be unfair?

 





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