State NAACP weighing appeal of new redistricting maps to U.S. Supreme Court

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 12/30/2021, 6 p.m.
Will there be an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court?

Will there be an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court?

The Virginia State Conference NAACP, which issued sharp criticism of proposed state redistricting maps, is still considering a legal challenge now that the Virginia Supreme Court has issued new boundaries for the state’s 11 congressional districts, 40 state Senate districts and 100 House of Delegate districts.

“All options are still on the table,” said Robert N. Barnette Jr., state NAACP president. “Our lawyers are still studying the maps, and we’ll make a decision after receiving their report. I can say we are generally disappointed.’

The state’s highest court on Tuesday unanimously approved the maps overhauling the boundaries in an order putting the new districts into effect for future primary and general elections, including the 2022 congressional elections.

Redrawing the electoral district boundaries is required under the federal and state constitutions after each 10-year census.

The state Supreme Court was handed the task after a new 16-member state Redistricting Commission, split equally among Democrats and Republicans, failed to reach agreement. The only avenue to appeal the Virginia court’s order is to the nation’s highest court.

While some praise was heard for the maps created by the court’s two appointed special experts, Democrat Dr. Bernard Grofman and Republican Sean Trende, the state NAACP and its legal team have been laser-focused on ensuring that the new boundaries did not undermine the interests of Black voters.

Those interests are protected by state law and the federal Voting Rights Act, the NAACP noted in a memo delivered to the court on Dec. 17 during a public comment period on the experts’ first drafts.

Mr. Barnette said a memo Dr. Grofman and Mr. Trende issued on Monday did not explain the tweaks the two experts made as a result of the array of public comments. He also noted that the court finalized the experts’ revised maps without allowing for additional public comment on the changes.

“We think that was needed,” Mr. Barnette said.

The most significant changes, according to Liz White, executive director of OneVirginia2021, were in the congressional maps. For example, a portion of western Chesterfield County was added to the revamped 1st Congressional District, which will extend to Hampton Roads.

However, the overall outlines of the congressional map appear to create five Republican-leaning districts, five Democratic-leaning districts and one toss-up district, largely retaining the boundaries in the draft maps the court released Dec. 7.

Current 7th District Democratic Congresswoman Abigail A. Spanberger of Henrico, whose residence was drawn into the heavily Republican 1st District, announced she would run in the revamped district in a bid to keep the seat she has held for four years.

The changes to the state House of Delegates and state Senate maps mean that Richmond’s delegation to the General Assembly will shrink. Only three House members and two senators would represent the city, a drop from the 11 members of the General Assembly who have Richmond voters in their districts, according to an analysis from the Virginia Public Access Project.

The analysis confirms that current Richmond Democratic Delegates Jeffrey M. Bourne, a member the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus; Betsy B. Carr; and Dawn M. Adams all have been drawn into the new 78th House District.

The approved maps also put at risk the re-election prospects of six members of the VLBC, including its chairman, Henrico Delegate Lamont Bagby, who is now in the same district as a white incumbent Democrat.

The approved maps show 13 incumbent Democrats in the House were drawn into six House of Delegate districts, while 18 incumbent Republicans were drawn into nine House districts. Five more Republican and Democratic incumbents were drawn into two House districts.

Among those impacted are outgoing House Democratic Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn of Northern Virginia, who was drawn into a district with another Democratic incumbent, Kathy Tran.

According to VPAP, the final state Senate districts show that two senior members of the VLBC, Sen. L. Louise Lucas of Portsmouth and Sen. Lionell Spruill Sr. of Chesapeake, have been drawn into the same Senate district.

Also, veteran Republican Senate leader Thomas K. “Tommy” Norment Jr. of James City County has been drawn into a district with another Republican incumbent.

A VPAP analysis shows that in the Senate, four incumbent Republican senators were drawn into two districts and four Democratic incumbents were drawn into two districts. Two other new Senate districts will have an incumbent Democrat and an incumbent Republican.

Former Democratic gubernatorial contender Sen. Creigh Deeds of Bath County is among those drawn into the same district as a Republican senator.