RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The Virginia Supreme Court unanimously rejected three map drawers nominated by Republicans to help the court redraw the state’s congressional and legislative districts.
The high court directed the state’s Republican leadership to submit new names for the justices to consider by Monday. The court also ordered Democratic leaders to put forward more candidates after one of their nominees was disqualified for sharing he may be unwilling to work with a second map drawer once the redistricting process begins.
The court’s decision comes days after Virginia Democrats criticized all three nominees put forward by Republicans as “partisan political operatives” with disqualifying conflicts of interests.
“Although the Special Master candidates are to be nominated by legislative leaders of a particular political party, the nominees — upon being appointed by this Court as Special Masters — will serve as officers of the Court in a quasi- judicial capacity,” the justices wrote in an order Friday. “Consequently, the Special Masters must be neutral and must not act as advocates or representatives of any political party.”
The bipartisan panel created to handle Virginia’s political redistricting, a once-a-decade process of redrawing electoral maps with new census data, was plagued by partisan divisions that led members to abandon the effort.
With the commission out, the job of redistricting fell to the Virginia Supreme Court. The justices asked Democratic and Republican leaders in the General Assembly to submit three or more qualified nominees without conflicts of interests by Nov. 1 to serve as special masters to help the court draw new political maps.
The partisan squabbling didn’t stop once the court took over, as party leaders in the House of Delegates and state Senate went back in forth over Democrats’ objections to the GOP-nominated map drawers.
Senate Democrats urged the justices to disqualify all of the Republicans’ special master candidates in a letter Monday, citing ties to Republicans and money given to one nominee from the party’s caucus in the Virginia Senate.
Republicans nominated Adam Kincaid, Thomas Bryan and Adam Foltz:
- Kincaid, the National Republican Congressional Committee’s former redistricting coordinator, now serves as the executive director of the National Republican Redistricting Trust and Fair Lines America. Democrats attacked Kincaid’s past record as redistricting coordinator in the letter, writing that he “collaborated in drafting Ohio legislative maps that a three-judge federal court later found were an extreme, illegal partisan gerrymander.”
- Bryan founded a consulting and expert witness firm specializing in redistricting after working as a statistician for the U.S. Census Bureau. In September, he received $20,000 in consulting fees from Virginia Senate Republicans. Democrats noted that GOP lawmakers did not disclose that Bryan had consulted the caucus when nominating him for special master.
- Foltz served as an aide to Republicans in the Wisconsin Senate, working as the primary map drawer for the caucus during the state’s 2011 redistricting process, and is now working with the Texas House Redistricting Committee on the state’s redistricting effort. Democrats pointed to Foltz’s participation in Wisconsin’s 2011 redistricting. A lower court ruled the redrawn maps were unconstitutional due to partisan gerrymandering, but when the case got to the U.S. Supreme Court, the justices ruled the plaintiffs had not established standing to strike down the state’s legislative maps and sent it back to the district court.
While the justices acknowledged Bryan eventually disclosed the $20,000 he was paid by the Republican caucus to the court, they came to the conclusion that it “creates a conflict” and dropped his name from contention.
After reviewing the GOP’s list, the court wrote it had “concerns about the ability of the remaining Republican nominees” and ordered party leaders to submit new candidates by 5 p.m. on Nov. 15.
Democratic leaders will have the same deadline to submit more nominees after an unnamed candidate they put forward shared a view that he would not be willing to work with another special master to draw Virginia’s new political boundaries, which is one of the requirements for the process.
Democrats nominated Bruce E. Cain, Nathaniel Persily and Bernard N. Grofman:
- Cain, a Stanford University professor, is a redistricting consultant and served as a special master to draw Arizona’s state legislative districts in 2002. He served as a consultant to Maryland’s attorney general during the state’s redistricting in 2011. The state’s redistricting process prompted legal complaints alleging Democrats of gerrymandering a congressional district, a case that went to the U.S. Supreme Court and was written about by Cain in 2018. The case was brought forward by a group of Republicans claiming that Democratic lawmakers had redrawn the district’s boundaries to dilute the GOP vote. While the Supreme Court ruled against the Republicans’ effort for an injunction, and sidestepped a decision on partisan gerrymandering, a lower court did grant a request in 2018 to block using the map and ordered new maps be drawn for the 2020 elections. The case eventually went back to the Supreme Court in 2019 until the high court ruled “partisan gerrymandering claims are not justiciable” and sent it back to the district court for dismissal.
- Persily, a Stanford Law School professor, has been a court-appointed special master for drawing state legislative and congressional maps in several other states.
- Grofman served as special master to courts in the drawing of Virginia’s congressional districts in 2015 and House of Delegates districts in 2018. He is currently a professor of political science at the University of California, Irvine.
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.
Once the special masters are picked, which will be done by a majority vote, they are expected to work together to develop plans that will be filed with the clerk of the state Supreme Court no later than 30 calendar days after they are appointed.