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House does not submit district lines

September 1 has arrived and the Virginia House of Delegates remains in recess. The state Senate illegally has declared “sine die” without the concurrence of the House, but there has yet to be a lawsuit filed with the state courts to compel Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam and the state senate to reconvene.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals court declared that by Sept. 1, a good faith effort by the legislature must be made to redraw what they construed as unconstitutional gerrymandering in Virginia’s 3rd Congressional District.

That was a fair-enough request.

In response, the governor called a special session. The House and Senate convened Aug. 17. Mere moments later the Senate adjourned while the House was still holding committee hearings.

So much for effort.

As a citizen observer, what is disappointing in this process is the House’s failure to act.

It appeared that they had the high ground. They had the chance to show leadership. They had the opportunity to actually redraw the districts in a responsible manner, following the parameters set forward in the Voting Rights Act and complying with the court order. They would be doing due-diligence while a petulant senate would be operating under the illegal auspices of the still, as of yet, unjustified ruling of Northam.

Did the House of Delegates and company step on the gas? Did they bother to move forward with what clearly was not only in the best interest of the commonwealth but faith in our constitution and separation of powers, in general?

Unfortunately, no. Having the House draw the lines anyway was proposed here more than 10 days ago by DJ McGuire [1], complete with rationale.. And perhaps House leadership considered it, but it never materialized.

“The House of Delegates acted in good faith to begin the redistricting process. Senate Democrats unilaterally ended that process in the middle of a public hearing, defying a federal court ruling and unilaterally shutting down the possibility of a legislative remedy. The ball is squarely in their court,” said Matthew Moran, Howell’s spokesperson to the Richmond Times-Dispatch [2].

As much respect as I have for Speaker William Howell, this appears to be a capitulation and obfuscation of responsibilities.

By giving the court no alternative, the House seems to give state Sen. Don McEachin’s dream of entirely redrawing the congressional districts a chance of fulfillment.

Will the court completely redraw the lines? We don’t know. And I certainly hope not. But the House has certainly given them no alternative.

Sure, we’re going to hear about saving “per diem” and “taxpayer money” by not staying in session. About how there was no chance of compromise. About how the Senate would not consider any new lines provided by the House and that the governor would certainly turn a blind eye anyway. We might also hear that this was a legal maneuver, with the House of Delegates acquiescing the merits of the case. Or maybe the House cannot mentally reconcile the fact that they already submitted what they construed as fair lines and are being foisted into a “do-over” by a subordinate court with political motivations?

Regardless, the gambit is in the hopes that the court will only marginally adjust the Third District’s boundaries. And, with that, there are no guarantees.

Instead, the House has given the court nothing. No baseline or template to work from. They have completely abdicated responsibility and we are reliant on the court itself to recognize separation of powers.

Quite the roll of the dice in this era of judicial activism. Now we can only hope that the court still believes in our constitution.