Current 3rd and 4th Districts

The current 3rd (blue) and 4th (red) district configurations

Republicans in Virginia’s congressional delegation are urging a three-judge panel not to impose a new district map now, warning that a later reversal by the U.S. Supreme Court could thwart a “historic campaign” by a black candidate in the 4th District.

The judges are in the process of redrawing Virginia’s congressional districts after twice ruling that in 2012 Virginia legislators packed too many additional blacks into the majority-minority 3rd District, diluting their influence in surrounding districts.

An expert, called a “special master” in court papers, has recommended two proposals to the judges. Both would reduce the black voting age population in the 3rd District, but increase it in the 4th, thereby giving blacks the opportunity to elect candidates of their choice in two districts, not just one.

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal by Republicans in Virginia’s congressional delegation, which could make the expert’s recommendations moot.

“Thus, entering either of the special master’s proposals now would invite a black candidate of choice to mount a historic campaign to become Virginia’s second black congressional representative, only to have that effort dashed mid-stream by any reversal by the Supreme Court that restores more than one million people to their current enacted districts,” write lawyers for Republicans in Virginia’s congressional delegation.

“Such a scenario would understandably engender voter confusion and mistrust and undermine public confidence in the election.”

Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, a Democrat, represents the 3rd District that now snakes from Richmond to Newport News. Rep. J. Randy Forbes, a Republican, represents the 4th District, which now extends from Amelia and Chesterfield counties to Chesapeake.

Virginia’s next scheduled U.S. House elections are in 2016.

The GOP lawyers say Reps. Robert J. Wittman, R-1st, Scott Rigell, R-2nd, Forbes and Dave Brat, R-7th, would suffer “irreparable harm” if the judges enact a new map now and the Supreme Court later reinstates the current districts.

“Because of the substantial overhaul of their districts,” any of the four “might lose a primary election under the remedial plan and, therefore, a congressional seat.”

As for the proposed overhaul of the 4th, “there is no credible argument that any Republican could prevail in such a district,” the GOP lawyers write.

A threshold issue in the case is whether the Republican members of Congress outside the 3rd District have legal standing to make the appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. They argue that they do because the ruling by the three-judge panel directly affects them, as well.

The GOP lawyers argue that there is “some risk of a Supreme Court reversal” because the high court has ordered full briefing and oral arguments on the merits.

Several voters in the 3rd District, backed by lawyers affiliated with the Democratic Party, brought the suit in 2013.

The plaintiffs and the original defendants — members of the State Board of Elections — want the judges to proceed with enacting a new map. Republicans in the congressional delegation intervened in the case in late 2013 and were added as defendants.

On Thursday, during AP Day at the Capital, held at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, a reporter asked Sen. A. Donald McEachin, D-Henrico, about the prospect of running for Congress in a newly configured 4th District.

McEachin noted that no newly configured district exists at this point, but he quipped: “It would be kind of cool to catch up with my 2001 running mates.”

McEachin lost Virginia’s 2001 election for attorney general to Republican Jerry W. Kilgore. Fellow Democrats Mark. R. Warner, who was elected governor in 2001, and Timothy M. Kaine, elected lieutenant governor that year, are now Virginia’s U.S. senators.

acain@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6645

Twitter: @AndrewCainRTD

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