Senate Republicans’ power grab

Senate Republicans just passed a bill that changes the lines that have already been agreed upon by the Justice Department. The bill, only available in paper form, passed on a party-line 20-19 vote. Democratic Sen. Henry Marsh was absent today, attending the inauguration.

It seems the bill would eliminate Sen. Creigh Deeds’ seat, as a 6th minority-majority district is created. And it also appears that this action is in violation of the Code of Virginia.


The bill that was being considered was House Bill 259. The latest substitute is not available on the website.

UPDATE: Article II, Section 6 of the Virginia Constitution appears to prohibit this (emphasis mine):

Members of the House of Representatives of the United States and members of the Senate and of the House of Delegates of the General Assembly shall be elected from electoral districts established by the General Assembly. Every electoral district shall be composed of contiguous and compact territory and shall be so constituted as to give, as nearly as is practicable, representation in proportion to the population of the district. The General Assembly shall reapportion the Commonwealth into electoral districts in accordance with this section in the year 2011 and every ten years thereafter.

And it appears that Senate Republicans have been waiting for an opportunity where at least one Democratic Senator was not present: They have been passing the bill by each day since January 10th.

UPDATE 2: Additional information has been coming out since I first posted this. The Richmond Times-Dispatch has reported on it, as has TPM, Think Progress and The Fredericksburg Free Lance Star. The latter says:

Had Republicans waited for Marsh’s return, the proposal likely would have failed on a tied vote. While Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling can vote to break ties, spokeswoman Ibbie Hedrick said he “has grave concerns about the adoption of a revised redistricting plan at this point in the process, and it is not something that he supported.”

Statements are coming in.  From Sen. Mark Herring:

Leesburg – Democratic candidate for Attorney General State Senator Mark Herring (Loudoun & Fairfax) issued the following statement today after Senate Republicans used parliamentary tactics to bring forward a plan to redraw Virginia’s State Senate districts:

“What the Senate Republicans have done today is utterly outrageous and cynical political gamesmanship at its absolute worst.

“While Americans across the nation honored the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. and put partisanship aside to watch as our President was inaugurated, Republicans in the state Senate disgracefully planned a partisan takeover of the Chamber. These are exactly the types of partisan maneuvering that our citizens and constituents abhor. This is not the Virginia way of governing and their actions raise constitutional concerns.

“I call on the Governor to rise above the political fray and, in the interest of achieving real results on the issues Virginians truly care about, condemn these actions.”

From Sen. Ralph Northam:

Richmond, VA— Today Dr. Ralph Northam, a Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor, issued the following statement on the Senate Republican Leadership’s unconstitutional redistricting:

“On the day that should have been remembered exclusively for President Obama’s historic speech on the importance of unity and for Martin Luther King’s life dedicated to fighting for civil rights, the Senate Republican leadership have engaged in an unethical, unconstitutional act of mid-decade gerrymandering which pushes the politics of divisiveness to a new level. If the Republicans succeed in ramming this down the throats of Virginia’s voters, it would mean a full out war on abortion rights, environmental protection and public education. They couldn’t beat Tim Kaine or President Obama in 2012—so they changed the rules. This is why I will do everything within my power to fully support a law suit to overturn this unconstitutional power grab.”

From Senate Democratic Caucus:

RICHMOND, VA — Today, in a political power play specifically banned by the Constitution of Virginia, Republican Senators voted to strengthen their districts and weaken districts currently held by Democratic Senators.

Senator Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax) said, “If this plan stands, there will be litigation, you can be sure of that. The Virginia Constitution says that the Virginia General Assembly shall redistrict in 2011 and every ten years thereafter. This will be struck down. The collateral damage from this thing will be immeasurable. This isn’t the last we’ve heard of this.”

Senator Donald McEachin (D-Henrico) added, “There have been no hearings on this plan. The public has no idea what these districts look like. The good working spirit that this Senate has had will come to a very quiet, very sudden end if this bill is passed. To do this by surprise, to rush it through in a day, even though they control the Committee on Privileges and Elections — this is sneaking, underhanded, and beneath the dignity of the Senate.”

Senator George L. Barker (D-Alexandria) said, “The Virginia Constitution says re-districting should take place ‘in the year 2011 and every ten years thereafter.’ It makes no provision for reapportionment in any year that doesn’t end in ‘one.’ A Circuit Court judge recently ruled that the Virginia Constitution does not allow for re-redistricting, which is what this bill would do, in order “to preclude ‘politically convenient’ redistricting whenever one political party or the other might gain the upper hand.” This type of action is not permissible under the Constitution.”

Not Larry Sabato has uploaded the legislation (pdf) which contains the realigned precincts. Under this, I would move from the 6th Senate district into the 5th. Lots of other changes in there as well.


3 thoughts on “Senate Republicans’ power grab

  1. The Constitution must be read in context; one can’t just pull out the parts that seem to support his or her position. In this instance, for those who read more of the Constitution, one would find the following in Article IV, Section 14:

    “The authority of the General Assembly shall extend to all subjects of legislation not herein forbidden or restricted; and a specific grant of authority in this Constitution upon a subject shall not work a restriction of its authority upon the same or any other subject. The omission in this Constitution of specific grants of authority heretofore conferred shall not be construed to deprive the General Assembly of such authority, or to indicate a change of policy in reference thereto, unless such purpose plainly appear.”

    In other words, simply because the General Assembly must redraw the lines “in the year 2011 and every ten years thereafter” does not mean that they are prohibited from doing so in the intervening years. Incidentally, at least some of your ideological compatriots agrees with me on this point (see here:

  2. Easy to provide after-the-fact commentary, isn’t it? Much harder to do as the information is being released, particularly when I’m not a lawyer. Passing along information as it is happening is a part of what we do here.

    1. The line “the Virginia Constitution appears to prohibit this” wasn’t just “passing along information” as it was happening. That language has been in the Constitution for a while now; it didn’t pop up all of a sudden yesterday. Rather than reporting the facts, you were stating your opinion on a legal issue.

      Of course, I don’t begrudge you your opinion as I know you don’t begrudge me mine and, of course, it’s your website so you can obviously do as you please. I’m simply pointing out that the opinion you posted is not quite so clear cut as it might have seemed to you or your readers at first glance.

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