RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A federal judge has agreed to expedite a new case seeking Virginia House of Delegates elections this year, saying the legal effort could have been resolved last year had former Attorney General Mark Herring’s office not used “stall tactics.”
Author Jeff Thomas filed a lawsuit last week alleging the 2021 House of Delegates elections were invalid because they were held under districts drawn using 2010 census data and asking the Eastern District of Virginia to order new elections this year under the updated districts.
If Thomas prevails, state delegates would be required to run again in November and the state would hold House of Delegates elections three years in a row.
In a hearing Monday, U.S. District Judge David J. Novak ordered an expedited schedule for Thomas’ lawsuit and blamed Herring’s office for delaying a similar lawsuit from Paul Goldman with appeals before the issue of Goldman’s legal standing was settled.
Nearly a year after Goldman filed, a three-judge panel that included Novak ruled Goldman lacked standing to sue and dismissed his lawsuit. Goldman has said he plans to file an appeal.
Novak has given the Virginia attorney general’s office, now under Republican Jason Miyares, until June 24 to file its planned motion to dismiss Thomas’ lawsuit. But the judge called on the state’s attorneys to share why the state is not to blame for the delay.
“It is really just not appropriate, the way they handled this case,” Novak said of Herring’s office’s motions to appeal Goldman’s challenge. “But you’re still one AG’s office, one commonwealth, so I need to know why the delay is not your fault.”
Thomas has until June 2 to respond to the state’s motion to dismiss but said he could file before then to fast-track a possible decision from the court. He also told Thomas to share why he didn’t file a new lawsuit last year, apart from Goldman’s case, if he felt new elections were needed.
“I could’ve handled two lawsuits at the same time,” Novak said, adding that the effort “never would have been in this predicament” had Herring’s office not appealed Goldman’s lawsuit before the issue of standing was resolved and if Thomas filed his lawsuit earlier. Novak said it could have been settled last November.
With Virginia’s congressional primaries set for June 21 and the midterms being on Nov. 8, time is of the essence for another round of Virginia House elections.
Novak acknowledged Monday that the state’s possible argument of a dwindling timetable for new elections could be valid, and pointed out that Thomas’ case won’t be decided until after the primaries.
In his lawsuit, Thomas argues that his home district in the city of Richmond, District 71, is overpopulated and results in a 31% population deviation compared to the smallest House district. The lawsuit asserts the deviation violates the constitutional rights of Thomas and other residents in the 71st District.
Thomas said after the hearing that his effort to join Goldman’s case last October was denied, adding that he has no specific partisan goal as his push for new elections came before Republicans flipped the House of Delegates.
“I just want my voting rights back,” he said.