It exploded through social media with the same oomph Democrats say it was pushed through the Virginia Senate. Around 5 p.m. Monday, word started to break through Facebook, Twitter and rapid press releases of an abrupt redistricting proposal from Senate Republicans – a proposal unexpected and illegal, Democrats say.
Contentious from a number of angles, the redistricting legislation was introduced on a day when one Democrat, Henry Marsh (D-Dist. 16), was absent from the evenly divided Senate. Marsh was in Washington for President Barack Obama’s second inauguration.
The measure passed on a party-line vote, 20-19.
Critics of the redistricting plan—introduced on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a federal holiday, and the day of the Inauguration ceremony, considered by many a day of national unity—were highly skeptical of the GOP’s intent.
And there remains the question whether the measure is legal under the Virginia Constitution. According to the Constitution, redistricting is to take place in years ending in one every 10 years following the U.S. Census. The last redistricting came in 2011.
The patron of the plan, John Watkins (R-Dist. 10), however, told the Associated Press his bill was meant to position the commonwealth away from the potential litigation. Watkins said the new lines would create another district with a black majority in southern-central Virginia, aligning the state within the 1965 Voters Right Act.
Democrats weren’t convinced. Loudoun-based Sen. Mark Herring (D-Dist. 33) called the move “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,” Herring said. “This is not the Virginia way of governing and their actions raise constitutional concerns.”
Herring’s district would see minor shifts under Watkins’ legislation.
The two Republican senators representing portions of Loudoun County, Jill Vogel (R-Dist. 27) and Dick Black (R-13th), were in committee meetings early Tuesday and couldn’t be reached for comment. Neither has issued a statement on the legislation.
Another Senator from Northern Virginia, Springfield’s George Barker (D-Dist. 39), commented on the bill’s legality, noting the state’s Constitution “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,” Barker said in a statement.
Senate Minority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Dist. 35) said if the plan stands there will be litigation.
“The collateral damage from this thing will be immeasurable. This isn’t the last we’ve heard of this,” Saslaw said.