Governor Mark Warner has asked Attorney General Jerry Kilgore not to appeal a Circuit Court judge’s ruling on redistricting until Kilgore and Warner discuss the matter further.
The Salem City Circuit Court judge’s ruling came as no surprise to Democrats who filed the suit. The judge ruled the redistricting plan to be unconstitutional based on racial gerrymandering. Specifically, he cited two districts in the Hampton Roads area and one in Charles City.
“Minorities have made great strides in moving into the suburbs in the past few years and this plan “packs” them all back into urban districts,” said Delegate Brian Moran, (D-46.) “Court decisions have been pretty consistent in saying that a 50 to 55 percent minority representation is sufficient for a majority/minority district. You don’t need to have 70 percent minority representation. That just dilutes the influence.”
Senator Richard Saslaw (D-35) agreed. “If you think that these people wanted to increase minority representation, you are wrong,” Saslaw said. “They just wanted to increase their own numbers in Richmond.” Saslaw was referring to the Republican majority that devised the plan last year.
“I would hope that we would be concerned about the voting rights of all Virginians not just one party,” Saslaw continued.
Delegate Marian Van Landingham (D-45) agreed. “When this plan was first adopted, we were concerned about some of those districts,” she said. “Not only were we concerned about “packing” but we were also concerned that the plan did not adhere to the “communities of interest” guideline. We have districts going all the way down the James River from Richmond to Hampton Roads. Some of it just made no sense.”
The attorney general, a Republican, had vowed to appeal the decision. “He waited all of 23 minutes after the decision was issued to make that decision,” Moran said. “It was a 53 page opinion. I could have hoped that he would have at least read it before issuing a statement.”
Warner apparently agreed. In a letter to Kilgore that was released on March 12, Warner was clear. “I could have hoped that you would have consulted with the first named defendant before making a public statement,” he said. “The court did not rush to judgment on this matter; neither should the Commonwealth.”
Moran contends that this is the governor’s call. “There is case law to support this,” he said. “Attorney General Kilgore is the attorney and the governor is the client in this matter. It should be the governor’s decision whether to appeal or not.”
Short of an appeal, there will need to be a special session of the legislature to redraw the district lines. “We could do this at around the time we go back for the veto session,” Van Landingham said. “That would seem to make the most sense and would give us some time to do some preliminary work.”
Elections would have to be held for the House of Delegates in November of this year instead of in 2003.