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An Ugly Process Gets Uglier
By Stephen J. Rossie

Square2017 imageRICHMOND, Va – It’s been an unusual summer. Normally, once the General Assembly adjourns in late winter, it’s not heard from again until early winter.

Not this year. Not when it had to reconvene for a contentious special session to write a state budget that lasted late into spring. Not now, either, as it again is in special session — for who knows how long — to deal with a federal court order to redraw House districts.

Redistricting is always an ugly process. Court involvement only makes it uglier — except for the most obvious and urgent reasons — because the constitutional authority for redistricting clearly lies in the legislative branch. But courts that consider themselves super legislatures on policy matters, now have seized redistricting authority, as well.

The U.S. Fourth District Court of Appeals is one such court, frequently nullifying legislative maps and even imposing its own maps on the commonwealth. It did so two years ago with Virginia’s congressional districts, changing them on its own well before the once-a-decade legislative process was to start. Now it has injected itself into the process three years before the General Assembly is required to act.

It’s as if it intentionally makes it impossible for the General Assembly to act. First, it mandates "majorityminority districts” so that minorities, presumably, have the electoral muscle to elect one of their own. But now it says too many minorities are in those districts and has ordered the House to redraw current districts so that it maintains the number of majority-minority districts but ensure enough minority voters in other districts so that they can influence those elections. In other words, draw up black districts, but not too black.

The thought that anyone, much less a federal court, should assume how anyone would vote is racist in and of itself. This only reinforces that. Furthermore, districts inevitably change and change rapidly in modern society as people move more frequently, neighborhoods change through redevelopment and pioneering entrepreneurs, and as rural areas become suburban and the like.

The construct of "constitutionally drawn districts” can change within a few years. That can’t be helped, nor legislated for, nor remedied by thunder from a court. The last election proved just that with Democrats winning 15 seats in large part because of demographic changes not evident six years previous. Now, with only three years before the process must begin again anyway, a federal court is threatening the Virginia legislature.

Not content with its iron hand, the Fourth Circuit is wielding its iron rod. It has refused to stay its order while House Republicans appeal its decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, acting more like a supreme council than an appeals court.

Meanwhile, the special session opened with the acrimony that only such an authoritarian order can engender by entrenching each side and, inevitably, backing one into a corner. A process that normally turns into an every-manfor- himself scramble after a long period of partisan condemnations needs to work itself out in natural order. An enforced solution doesn’t make an ugly process pretty.

 





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