Cuccinelli asks Va. Supreme Court to intervene in redistricting suit

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RICHMOND — Virginia Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II is asking the Virginia Supreme Court to intervene in a lawsuit filed over congressional redistricting, after a circuit court judge Tuesday refused to dismiss the case.

While the court did not rule on whether the General Assembly had divested its authority to draw new district lines because it failed to do so in 2011, as required by the state constitution, the lower court opinion effectively removes that authority, Cuccinelli spokesman Brian Gottstein said.

The court can act only if the Assembly’s passing a redistricting bill is beyond its authority, which it is not, according to the U.S. and state constitutions, Mr. Gottstein said. Therefore, the circuit court does not have the jurisdiction to hear the plaintiff’s claims, he said.

“In fact, both parties to the suit agreed at the hearing that if the assembly still had the power to redistrict, the suit should be dismissed,” Mr. Gottstein said.

The lawsuit, brought by six Virginia residents, claims the Assembly failed in its constitutional obligations by not reapportioning the state’s 11 congressional districts in 2011, the year after the decennial census. It was filed against the state Board of Elections, Republicans Gov. Bob McDonnell, Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling and Mr. Cuccinelli.

“Given the impending elections and deadlines associated with the federal Voting Rights Act, my office is seeking immediate intervention by the Supreme Court of Virginia,” Mr. Cuccinelli said. “We are also seeking an immediate appeal of the order and a stay of further proceedings in the circuit court until the Virginia Supreme Court has ruled.”

The attorney general’s office sought intervention from the Virginia Supreme Court before on this issue, to argue that the word “shall” in reference to the Assembly’s obligation to draw the lines last year is directory, and not mandatory.

The judge disagreed.

“If the court concurs with the defendants’ proposition that the word ‘shall’ in Article II, Section 6, is discretionary, then the General Assembly will have limitless discretion to reapportion Virginia’s electoral districts in any year it chooses,” Judge Richard D. Taylor Jr. wrote.

After a months-long impasse last year, the House and Senate recently passed a plan that largely shores up the state’s current incumbents, likely preserving an 8-3 Republican advantage.

Senate Democrats had pushed for a plan that would create a second minority-influence district by decreasing the black population in Democratic Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott’s meandering 3rd District and increasing it in Republican Rep. Randy Forbes’ southeastern 4th District.

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