RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Calls have grown for Virginia to hold elections this year in all 100 House of Delegates districts using the new political maps approved by the state’s Supreme Court.
The Richmond attorney trying to get the courts to order a special election this November says growing enthusiasm from advocacy groups has helped bring more attention to his effort. But he noted his attempts to get public support for the case never panned out.
“I tried to get people to back the lawsuit when I filed in June,” attorney Paul Goldman, the former chairman of the Virginia Democratic Party, said in an interview Friday. “I think the case would be in a different posture now. I don’t think AG Herring would have been as cavalier to share an official opinion if there was more public backing.”
Goldman’s lawsuit argues that last fall’s House elections were held under unconstitutional districts. He wants the court to set one-year terms for all 100 state delegates and force Virginia to hold another round of elections under the redrawn districts that have been updated with new census data to reflect the population shifts over the last decade.
If the federal court sides with Goldman, the battle for control of the House of Delegates would be on the ballot three years in a row.
But the lawsuit is being held up in the Richmond-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals after then-Attorney General Mark Herring (D) appealed a ruling from U.S. District Judge David J. Novak that allowed the case to move forward against the individual members of the State Board of Elections and Virginia’s Elections Commissioner
Goldman filed a motion to dismiss the state’s appeal, claiming that the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals lacks jurisdiction over the case after a three-judge panel was appointed. The office of Virginia’s current attorney general, Jason Miyares (R), filed a response at the court’s request Friday saying Goldman’s dismissal attempt should be denied.
The state’s response did leave open the possibility that the appeals court could remand the case to allow the federal district court to weigh in on the state’s appeal.
“The Election Officials believe that the authority presented by Goldman does not demonstrate that this Court is ousted of its jurisdiction,” Virginia Solicitor General Andrew N. Ferguson wrote in the motion.
“In light of the lack of clear precedents in this area, however, to the extent that this Court has doubts regarding its jurisdiction, and given also that the district court has never decided the important standing questions presented by this appeal, the Election Officials recognize that the Court may prefer to remand the case so that the district court may consider the standing issues in the first instance.”
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is set to hear oral arguments in the case on March 8. If the court agrees to dismiss the case, Goldman could appeal the decision. If the attorney general’s office’s appeal is denied, the three-judge panel will hear Goldman’s lawsuit.
While advocacy groups and organizations, including several local chapters of the NAACP, have called for another round of House elections this November, state lawmakers have relatively stayed silent on Goldman’s lawsuit.
“Do voting rights matter all the time or only before you are elected,” Dr. Ferguson Reid Jr., who represents a grassroots voter registration organization called 90 for 90, said of state lawmakers Friday. “Everybody should buck up, do their homework and get out there and campaign again.”
Reid said concerns about protecting a majority in the House or incumbents in the chamber shouldn’t get in the way of “doing what’s right,” calling Goldman’s effort a necessary step to ensure that all Virginians are equally represented in the state legislature.
“Virginia is a tough place to challenge the establishment,” Goldman said Friday. “And press releases alone didn’t get the case where it is today.”
This story is developing. Check back for updates.