As many observers of the Commonwealth’s political scene know, there are several gerrymandering challenges to district boundaries, both congressional and state jurisdictions. In late June, a federal district court panel ruled 2-1 that the Virginia House had unconstitutionally drawn boundaries in five House and six Senate districts using race as a priority, in violation of precedent and the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.
The panel further ordered the House to redraw the map by October 30, prior to the midterms. Republicans, with a 51-49 majority, have announced that they will appeal the decision to SCOTUS and have requested that the federal judges stay their decision. The GOP’s defense of the lawsuit traces to a 2014 House resolution authorizing the action. One condition of that resolution provided that it could commence if the Governor and Attorney General choose not to defend the challenge, or in “which it is necessary to defend . . . the House of Delegates.”
In a statement, Speaker Kirk Cox has announced that “Republicans will file an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court.” Well, that’s not exactly true, since the House resolution provides that such legal action is that of the House of Delegates itself. Cox’s statement also seems to imply that Republicans will be paying for the legal costs. Well again, that’s not true. What’s worse is that the plan of the House Republicans amounts to taxpayer- funded racial discrimination.
Newspaper reports indicate that the House has spent $4,067,098.03 in its defense of the House. Another $877,000 in costs were incurred by the Attorney General who, by law, is required to defend the state Board of Elections, a party in the legal challenge. Despite the 2014 resolution adopted when the Republicans held a 66-34 majority in the House, the AG had no choice in defending the state agency. But neither did the state’s taxpayers have a choice in footing the bill—a result even more perplexing since the Republican majority is now only 51-49.
Should the Republicans, or more precisely the House, lose again on appeal, will taxpayers be on the hook for further costs or will Republicans, er, House members, reconsider? It’s not the Republicans’ dime making this call but the taxpayers’, and common sense would suggest that Speaker Cox not refer to the Republican defense or its costs as anything but a defense of a political party’s legislative power now somewhat long in the tooth given the 2017 elections.
In a clear statement ignoring the finding of the court, a Republican spokesperson said the “districts in question were drawn with overwhelming bipartisan support, including with a majority of the African-American members of the House of Delegates.” So, the GOP position seems to stand for the proposition that “we were right in 2011 when the districts were drawn and are right again in 2018.”
However, in this round of legal jousting, Attorney General Mark Herring has announced that his office would not join the GOP challenge because of its low chances of success, costs over and above the $5 million already wasted, and urged the Republicans to get on with it and fix the district boundaries.
There is a session of the House scheduled for August 16, which the Democrats have identified as an opportunity to redraw the boundaries; they could also hold a special session for the purpose. The Republican response to that message was that it is “premature to consider calling a special session while litigation is ongoing.” In other words, Republicans plan to spend additional taxpayer funds to defend their position. The House Republicans intend to spend more taxpayer funds to defend the indefensible. Even bare majority power corrupts.