- Associated Press - Saturday, August 15, 2015

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - State lawmakers are set to return to the Capitol on Monday for what’s expected to be a contentious fight over congressional redistricting and a Virginia Supreme Court appointment.

The fate of the governor’s high court selection is all but certain, but the final look at what Virginia’s new congressional boundaries will look like is less clear.

Republican leaders of the GOP-controlled General Assembly plan to elect Rossie D. Alston Jr. Monday as a new justice on the Virginia Supreme Court. His election will remove Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s new appointment to the high court, Justice Jane Marum Roush, who took her spot on the bench at the beginning of this month.

The judge fight has been all about politics, as both sides say Roush is a qualified candidate.

McAuliffe has accused GOP House Speaker William J. Howell and Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr. of throwing a “political temper tantrum” because they feel the governor did not properly consult with them prior to picking Roush. And McAuliffe and other Democrats are accusing Republicans of trying to unseat Roush as part of an ongoing “war on women.” The Democratic Party of Virginia compared Howell and Norment to presidential hopeful Donald Trump, saying all three “put their misogyny on full display” recently.

Republicans have kept mostly mum, but have been helped by an unlikely ally. Former Democratic Gov. L. Douglas Wilder made waves in Virginia political circles when he told the Washington Post that McAuliffe was responsible for the judicial set-to by ignoring established protocol and not consulting with Howell and Norment. Wilder also told the paper that McAuliffe had offended African-American voters by picking Roush over Alston, who is black.

Democratic lawmakers have asked for a hearing where both Roush and Alston can be asked questions by lawmakers, but Republicans have made clear that they aren’t budging. They’ve only invited Alston to be interviewed for the position.

Alston’s election to the Virginia Supreme Court by the heavily Republican House is almost assured. Moderate GOP senators in the more evenly divided Senate may trip up Alston’s election, but would not be able to prevent Roush’s removal from the high court.

Also Monday, lawmakers will begin the process of drawing new congressional maps. The General Assembly has been ordered to draw new congressional districts by Sept. 1 by a panel of federal judges, who ruled that lawmakers illegally packed too many black voters into Virginia’s 3rd Congressional District.

It’s unclear how long the process may take, but it’s evident that there will be disagreement over how best to draw new lines.

Republicans have defended the current boundaries and GOP Del. Mark Cole, chairman of the House Committee on Privileges and Elections, said in a statement he plans to “redraw parts” of the 3rd Congressional District.

McAuliffe, who recently signed on to a national effort at making sure Democratic governors have more of a say in the 2020 redistricting process, issued a statement late Wednesday saying a wholesale redrawing of the state’s 11 congressional districts are needed.

“The entire redistricting process was poisoned by unlawful manipulation of voting patterns based on racial demographics,” McAuliffe said. “Any effort to remedy that violation with minor tweaks to a fundamentally flawed map will necessarily remain tangled in racial consideration and therefore remain illegal.”

If the General Assembly and McAuliffe can’t find a compromise, federal judges may just impose their own lines, as they have done in other states.

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