Virginia Supreme Court grants extension to nominate new map drawers for redistricting

Capitol Connection

Virginia State Sen. Richard Saslaw, D-Fairfax, left, talks with Sen. Tommy Norment, R-James City County, during the Virginia Senate Special Session in the temporary Senate chambers at the Science Museum of Virginia Tuesday Aug. 18, 2020, in Richmond, Va. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, Pool)

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The Virginia Supreme Court has given state legislative leaders two more days to nominate new map drawers to help the court redraw the state’s political districts, but denied a request from Republicans to discuss the qualifications for the role.

On Friday, the court unanimously rejected all three “special master” nominees from the state’s Republican leadership and dropped one candidate picked by Democrats from contention. The justices then set a Monday deadline for party leaders to submit new names for consideration.

The decision came just days after Virginia Democrats sent a letter to the court claiming all three of the Republicans’ nominees were “partisan political operatives” with conflicts of interests.

Republican leaders initially said they would not seek to have any of the Democrats’ nominees disqualified, but that changed after the court rejected all three of their candidates.

In their own letter to the court Friday, Republicans asserted that all of the Democrats’ candidates suffer “from the same disqualifying conflicts of interest that led the Court to dispense with the Republican Caucus’s nominees” and urged the justices to reject them as well.

The court has not issued an order addressing the request, but did weigh in on two other requests from Republicans.

In a separate letter to the court Friday, an attorney for Senate Minority Leader Tommy Norment (R-James City) and House Republican Leader Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) asked the court for a two-day extension to submit their new “special master” candidates and a conference call to go over the qualifications.

“My clients would like to avoid having their second round of nominations followed by subsequent disqualification motions that could lead to a third round of required nominations,” Jason Torchinsky, the Republicans’ counsel, wrote in the letter.

In a two-sentence order released Monday, the court granted the extension but denied the request for the conference call. The new nominees are due by 5 p.m. Wednesday.

Virginia’s political redistricting, a once-a-decade process of redrawing electoral maps with new census data, is now in the hands of the court after the 16-member commission created by a constitutional amendment failed to come to an agreement on new state legislative and congressional maps.

Under rules adopted by the court, the justices won’t be drawing the new maps but instead will select two “special masters” with the proper qualifications and experience — one nominated by Democrats and one put forward by Republicans — as map drawers to assist in the process.

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