- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 31, 2011

RICHMOND — The Virginia General Assembly appears at an impasse over how to redraw lines for the state’s 11 congressional districts, with Republicans and Democrats unable or unwilling to compromise on competing maps.

The Republican-controlled House is pushing a plan that would largely keep intact the districts of the state’s 11 congressional incumbents, which critics are calling an “incumbent-protection plan” to help preserve the GOP’s 8-3 majority.

Delegate Bill Janis, Goochland Republican, says the plan is legal, has passed the House 86-8 and has input from all 11 members.

“In the House, we’re very comfortable that the version we passed meets all the requirements of the Virginia Constitution and the United States Constitution,” he said. “It’s got bipartisan support in the House of Delegates. We see no reason why we should move off that position right now, but the Senate’s not quite there yet.”

Mr. Janis said House lawmakers also think the plan meets the requirements of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, created to ensure minority votes are not diluted. Virginia is among a handful of states with a history of racial discrimination at the polls that are subject to the federal law.

Mr. Janis, one in a small group of lawmakers appointed to hash out differences between the House plan and the Democrat-controlled Senate’s plan, said he remains optimistic that the assembly will finish the process before Labor Day.

But Sen. A. Donald McEachin, Richmond Democrat, said he doesn’t know when the stalemate will end, considering Mr. Janis and House Republicans’ apparent unwillingness to compromise.

“He’s dug in his heels, and it seems like his caucus is following him,” said Mr. McEachin, who describes the Senate plan as “more contiguous, more compact and more competitive.”

“I don’t have a crystal ball,” he added. “But I know this: As long as Bill Janis and the rest of the Republicans say, ‘8-3 or the highway,’ there’s nothing to talk about.”

The House plan increases the population of eligible black voters in Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott’s 3rd District, which currently meanders from Richmond to Hampton Roads, from 53 percent to 56 percent.

The Senate plan creates a second “minority-opportunity” district by decreasing the eligible black voting population to below 50 percent in Mr. Scott’s district. The eligible black voting population in Rep. J. Randy Forbes’ southeastern 4th District, would in turn increase from about 33 percent to just over 50 percent and become the state’s sole majority-minority district.

Mr. Janis said the state is constitutionally obligated to complete the process in 2011 so the Assembly’s special session remains open.

Meanwhile, lawmakers on Friday filled vacancies on the state Supreme Court.

The seven-seat high court had been short two judges after Judge Lawrence Koontz retired in January and Leroy Hassell Sr. died a month later, forcing it to cut back its caseload and rely on a number of semi-retired justices to fill the backlog.

The assembly elected to elevate Justices Elizabeth A. McClanahan and Cleo E. Powell from the Court of Appeal.

Justice Powell is the first black woman elected to the Supreme Court in Virginia.

Filling Justices McClanahan and Powell’s spots on the appellate court are Stephen McCullough, who works in the Attorney General’s Office, and Glen Huff, a Virginia Beach lawyer who practiced with Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican.

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