- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 29, 2002

RICHMOND The state Supreme Court yesterday stayed a lower court ruling that Virginia's 2001 legislative redistricting plan is unconstitutional and agreed to hear an appeal of the decision.
However, the court refused the request to fast-track the case, a setback for Democrats and what slim prospects they had for November elections in redrawn House of Delegates districts.
Republican Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore was upbeat at the decision. His office will ask the Supreme Court to overturn Salem Circuit Judge Richard C. Pattisall's March ruling that the GOP-drawn districts were racially gerrymandered.
"We felt all along that they would take the case," Mr. Kilgore said. "We were actually surprised that the other side initially opposed our petition."
Judge Pattisall's ruling nullified the present 100 House districts and 40 state Senate districts, ordered them redrawn and called for new elections to be held in the House districts this year.
Mr. Kilgore said that last year's reapportionment plan with Republicans in charge for the first time was designed with the aim of maximizing the Republican majority, not minimizing minority representation in the legislature.
"This process is very political," he said.
House Speaker S. Vance Wilkins, Amherst Republican, and the prime architect of the plans, was equally happy with the ruling.
"We made a good-faith effort to do things right originally. We had a sound plan, and this is what we expected," he said in a telephone interview.
Democratic legislators, who want Judge Pattisall's ruling upheld, said they expected such a ruling but were disappointed nonetheless.
"We remain confident that when this case is ultimately decided, the GOP plan that divided Virginians by race and violated the state Constitution will be struck down. The Republicans' illegal gains in the legislature will not stand," the House and Senate Democratic Caucus leaders, Delegate Brian Moran of Alexandria and Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple of Arlington, said in a two-paragraph statement they issued.
Gov. Mark R. Warner, a Democrat, said he was disappointed that the case apparently will not be heard until September or October.
"Obviously, I would have preferred that the Supreme Court would have heard this case sooner," Mr. Warner said.
The politically charged case put Mr. Warner and Mr. Kilgore sharply at odds in the days after Judge Pattisall made his decision known in early March.
Mr. Kilgore announced within minutes of learning of the ruling that he would appeal, leaving in doubt whether the governor or the state's top attorney decides the legal course for the commonwealth.
Mr. Warner and Mr. Kilgore reached a compromise that allows Mr. Kilgore to represent the legislature and State Board of Elections Secretary Cameron Quinn in asking the court to reverse Judge Pattisall's ruling and Mr. Warner to use an independent lawyer for the appeal.
Stanford University Law School professor Pamela S. Karlan will present Mr. Warner's case for affirming the trial court decision.
At Mr. Warner's insistence, however, Mr. Kilgore joined the governor in asking the court for an expedited hearing that could have allowed Democrats to take back some of the 12 seats Republicans took from them last fall, increasing their House majority to 64 seats.


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