Redistricting do-over? Senate Dems to sue

Virginia Senate Republicans are considering revisiting redistricting come January. In a story by Steve Vaughan* in The Virginia Gazette, Senator Tommy Norment expresses the desire to change the lines drawn by the legislature and approved by the U.S. Department of Justice. In particular, Norment wants Williamsburg back in his district.

As if there’s not enough on the plate of the legislature this session.

This, along with the refusal of Republicans to share power in the Senate, prompted Senate Democrats to announce their intention to file suit. In a press release, Senator Dick Saslaw said, “Republicans are showing us right now that their number one priority is the accumulation and exercise of political power for their own benefit.”

At issue is the power of the Lieutenant Governor. Republicans believe he can cast a vote in certain circumstances, including the reorganization of the Senate, while Democrats believe he cannot.

This is going to be an interesting struggle. And I hope the Democrats don’t give up as easily on this as they did on the redistricting, which is what got us in this mess in the first place.

The entire press release:

Senate Democrats to File Lawsuit to Stop Republican Power Grab
Republicans Overreaching in Claiming a Majority and Seeking to Re-do Redistricting

Richmond, VA – In one of the largest power grabs in modern Virginia history, Republicans are claiming a Senate majority they did not earn and also announced they would like to “re-visit” redistricting. In response to the Republicans claiming the Lt. Governor has the authority to break a tie for re-organizing the Virginia Senate, Senate Democrats today announced they will file suit to force a ruling on the power of the Lt. Governor to break tie votes in a Senate that now has 20 Democrats and 20 Republicans.

“You would think after an extremely close election Republicans would come out with a plan that addresses jobs, education, transportation, and other issues facing Virginia families” said newly-elected Senate Democratic Caucus Chair Donald McEachin (D-Henrico). “Instead, the first thing Senate Republicans do is claim a majority they do not have and announce their intention to re-draw Senate district lines. Republicans are showing us right now that their number one priority is the accumulation and exercise of political power for their own benefit.”

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw (D-Fairfax ), said the reason for filing suit “is that according to the Virginia Constitution the Lt. Governor does not have the right to break ties in regards to re-organizing the Senate, the budget, or appointing judges. Further, the Republicans are ignoring the will of the people. Just two weeks ago, the citizens of Virginia elected 20 Democrats and 20 Republicans to the Senate. They have called for divided government and not one-party rule.”

In a media report published Saturday, Senate Republican Leader Tommy Norment announced his intention to go through the re-districting process in January after a Senate redistricting plan was passed by the Republican-controlled House and a Republican Governor earlier this year.

“The Republican Senators desire to re-district again is another abuse of power plain and simple. Even Senator Norment admitted that nothing like this has been done before in Virginia, said Senator Saslaw.

Senator McEachin noted, “We have seen what happens in other states when Republicans overreach in their quest for power. Voters let them know they went too far and I think that’s what will happen again.”

*In the interest of full disclosure, Steve Vaughan is also a contributor to this blog.

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13 thoughts on “Redistricting do-over? Senate Dems to sue

  1. There is also a push to remove the state background checks when purchasing fire arms. Now the NRA has tried this for quite a while. But now that the Republicans hold both house and senate they might feel they have a better chance. There was a story in the pilot. http://hamptonroads.com/2011/11/virginia-background-checks-gun-sales-challenged

    That this makes two big changes right out the the gate. It may be an interesting year in Richmond.

  2. Section 14. Duties and compensation of Lieutenant Governor.

    The Lieutenant Governor shall be President of the Senate but shall have no vote except in case of an equal division. He shall receive for his services a compensation to be prescribed by law, which shall not be increased nor diminished during the period for which he shall have been elected.

    There is nothing in the VA Constitution that restricts the Lieutenant Governor’s voting on matters of “re-organizing the Senate, the budget, or appointing judges.”

      1. The problem with that “division of powers” argument is this: What power does the Lieutenant Governor have? The ONLY power he has is that tie-breaking vote.

      2. I read the article. the lt Gov is not a member of the senate, but he still gets to cast all tie breaking votes. There does not appear to be a Constitutional limitaiton on the types of tiebreaking role, so it should apply to organizational votes.

  3. Democrats claim that the Bolling is not member of the Senate is very week to the point of absurdity. The Courts are going to be very loathe to deal with a political question involving how a legislature organizes itself after a election. The GOP will have the final say. The GOPS plan on redistricting is weak. It will end up in the Federal Courts at some point probabably later then sooner due to the voting rights act and review by the justice department

    1. When the Dems were in this same position, the AG ruled that the LG was not a member of the Senate. So it’s not nearly as weak as you think. In fact, the Republicans are ignoring that AG ruling and relying on the report of an outsider – ironically enough, prepared for the Democrats in the earlier instance – in claiming the power now.

      Honestly, I’d love to see this resolved once and for all, so that it isn’t political.

  4. If the court follows the logic espoued by the AG then the democrats are truly doomed. It is convoluted logic that the LG doe not decide the question in a divided house. Can one imagine the tortuous reasoning that the voting right act could be subjected to under similer reasoning??

  5. Trying to do-over redistricting is a bad idea. That is a legal battle the Dems are likely to win. I look forward to the ensuing melee.

    I would point out again that nonpartisan redistricting would cure many of these problems…

  6. Let me Clarify. Words have meaning and elections have consequnces. Playing what is essntially a semantics game over when the LG can or cannot vote will make the democrats look like sore losers. The purpose of the President of the Senate (One wonders how you can be the President of a body with out being a member of it) is to vote when the chamber is equally divided. So the AG is wrong in any case of a tie. The democrats lose in a scenario similer to football team griping about bad calls. The logic the democrats are using is similer to the republicans attempts to not add a second minority influended district. I wouldn;t want the law interpretted in such a way that defeats the intent of the legilation. Accept the lose with grace. Move on. The Dems get another bite at the apple in 2 years when The LG’s office is up

  7. I think the Democrats were right about what the LG can vote on in 1996 and they are wrong now. Which of course means the GOP is right now but was wrong in ’96. If they’d just have some intellectual honesty and admit that…..

    Redoing redistricting is a move that does real harm to the system, in my view. It opens up redistricting any time the majority changes. That’s not a good idea. I think it’s just an escalation of partisan warfare. I’m actually surprised that Sen. Norment is considering this, becayse usually he’s someone who does care about the traditions and processes of the institution.

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