A lawsuit challenging the Virginia legislature’s authority to draw new congressional boundaries can move forward, the state’s Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.
The high court rejected an appeal from Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli to throw out the case. Cuccinelli insisted that a Richmond City Circuit Court judge who initially advanced the lawsuit didn’t have the authority to intervene in the affairs of the General Assembly.
The lawsuit, brought by voters, contends that the legislature shirked its constitutional duty by not passing a new congressional map before the start of the New Year and that a court should now draw the lines.
Every 10 years the state uses U.S. Census data to draw new district boundaries based on population shifts and demographic changes. Virginia's constitution mandates that process wrap up in 2011.
While lawmakers agreed on new maps for the state House of Delegates and the Senate, no consensus was reached on Virginia’s 11 Congressional districts by Dec. 31. Democrats controlling the Senate wanted a second minority district in central Virginia while Republicans preferred to maintain the status quo.
Republicans gained the Senate following last November’s elections and swiftly passed their preferred map once the new General Assembly convened in January. Gov. Bob McDonnell signed it into law last week.
But the Richmond court ruled the lawsuit challenging the legality of that map had merit, and the Supreme Court refused to intervene. No hearing date has been set.
“The elected representatives of the citizens of Virginia have passed a redistricting plan through the legislative process,” Cuccinelli said, “and we will continue to seek to protect the result of that process.”
The ramifications of a drawn out legal battle are significant. Virginia’s maps are subject to approval from the Justice Department to ensure compliance with the Voting Rights Act, a process that can take up to 60 days. Cuccinelli is pushing the Justice Department and federal courts not to wait until the Richmond court rules to approve the new maps.
That could be troublesome for candidates running for Congress with primary elections scheduled for early June and cause confusion at the polls for voters.
It could also throw a wrench in petition gathering efforts of the U.S. Senate candidates, who must collect 10,000 signatures, including 400 from each congressional district to make the ballot.
Cuccinelli is lobbying the legislature to push Virginia’s primary back to August. That would leave just three months between the primary season and the November general elections.