(Richmond) – On Wednesday, Speaker Cox and the House Republicans filed a response to the Attorney General’s motion to modify the court’s June 26 order and revise the timeline by which the court will redraw the 11 unconstitutional districts.
House Democratic Caucus Executive Director Trevor Southerland responded to the Republicans’ multiple arguments, saying, “The claims made in the House Republicans’ court filing today are so outlandish that we have to address them one at a time.”
Republicans claim there is no impasse in the General Assembly
House Republicans have shown no intentions to introduce their own map or move forward with the Democratic map. After the June 26 court order, Democratic Leader David Toscano sent multiple letters to Speaker Cox requesting a special session and collaboration on a new map, to which he received no response.
The Governor then called for Special Session II to redraw the 11 unconstitutional districts, and Speaker Cox responded in a statement that clearly demonstrated the Republicans had had no intentions to call a special session or introduce a map, saying, “…we fully intend to continue to pursue both our request for a stay from the Eastern District Court and our appeal to the United States Supreme Court… The Special Session called by the Governor gives him and Delegate Toscano the opportunity to present a redistricting plan and demonstrate a willingness to engage in a good-faith effort.”
In the special session on August 30, Republicans defeated a floor amendment to reconvene the legislature again by September 12, and they also killed a motion in the Privileges and Elections committee to hold public hearings on the Democratic map on September 8 and reconvene on September 12. The Republicans then adjourned the committee on a party line vote.
“It is significant that Republicans have shown no movement since August 30 to introduce their own map or reconvene Privileges and Elections – until the Governor declared an impasse, the Attorney General filed a motion requesting the court to redraw the districts, and the court ordered the Republicans to give an update on their progress,” said Southerland. “It is clear that the Republicans’ strategy has been to stall the process, both politically and in the courts. Now that they are faced with the possibility of court-drawn districts – which would undo their racial gerrymandering and affect their partisan advantage – they are compelled to introduce their own map and protect their gerrymander at all costs.”
Republicans claim that they have collaborated with members of the Democratic Caucus
Republicans state in their court filing that they have had discussed their alleged redistricting plans with House Democrats. However, Republicans did not reach out to Leader Toscano or Caucus Chair Charniele Herring about redistricting by any method until the Attorney General filed his motion to amend the court order on September 10. Indeed, Speaker Cox ignored Leader Toscano’s multiple letters on the subject. The first time Speaker Cox, or any member of the Republican House leadership, reached out to House Democratic leadership was after the Attorney General filed his motion, and they have yet to introduce any map specifics to Democratic leadership.
“Apparently, the Republicans believe that listing the various dates when they might have had short discussions with Democrats about redistricting constitutes ‘collaborating,’” said Southerland. “In fact, the Republicans have never offered anything concrete about their plan or revisions to the Democratic plan.”
Republicans say they cannot schedule a floor vote until they have adequate support
In the Republicans’ court filing, they claim, “There is no point in bringing legislation to the floor without understanding the members’ position on it and making efforts to secure passage in advance.”
Southerland said, “House Republicans, apparently, feel the need to rely on backroom deals to ensure support of their map before bringing it to a public vote. There can be no reason for these private negotiations other than an attempt to conceal from the public an overtly partisan and political map – and further delay the process.”
Republicans attempt to blame their inaction on scheduling issues
Republicans claim that House members “…did not anticipate legislative matters arising in August, September and October” and therefore they could not schedule redistricting special session hearing dates, floor votes, or informal meetings.
Southerland responded, “Considering the General Assembly has been in a special session on judge appointments all summer, this reasoning is flimsy at best. Legislators have been prepared to be called into special session since April 11 this year.
“Unsurprisingly, the Republicans estimate that a floor vote on a new map may happen in mid-October – just before the October 30 deadline given by the court. The Republicans’ supposed ‘scheduling hurdles’ are a thinly veiled attempt to continue delaying the process.
“Furthermore, if the Republicans had actually intended to reconvene the House of Delegates and were merely running into scheduling issues, they likely would have indicated so in their August 24 response to the court.”
Republicans require that any new map maintain the current partisan makeup
In the Republicans’ September 10 letter to Democratic leadership, they said they would be willing to work on a map that “does not substantially alter the partisan makeup of any competitive House districts,” reiterating Delegate Rob Bell’s comments on August 30.
They also say in the letter, “We maintain that this  plan is constitutional.” The court has found that 11 districts were racially gerrymandered in violation of the U.S. Constitution.
“While simultaneously defending their gerrymandering, the Republicans are saying they will only unpack districts if they are able to maintain their partisan advantage,” stated Southerland. “It is impossible to reverse unconstitutional racial gerrymandering – designed in 2011 to protect the Republican majority – without making the districts more competitive. Not only is that simple logic, but it is fair, constitutional, and democratic. The failure of the Republicans to act simply proves that we are at a legislative impasse.”