A federal judge on Friday did not immediately move Virginia’s redistricting process to the courts, but set in motion a contingency plan in which a court-appointed expert would draw new boundaries in case legislators miss an Oct. 30 deadline to do so.
U.S. District Judge Robert E. Payne said that by next Thursday, the parties in the case — Democrats, Republicans and state elections officials — must propose the names of the expert to draw new boundaries — called a “special master” in court parlance — as a contingency in case drawing the map falls to the judges.
By Sept. 25, the parties must tell the court whether they have agreed on an expert. The judge also told House Republicans to file a series of status reports on the progress of redistricting efforts in the General Assembly.
In June, a three-judge panel ruled that legislators had unlawfully racially gerrymandered 11 House districts. Last week Northam asserted that the legislature was at an impasse on redistricting and urged House Republicans to let the courts draw a new map.
On Friday evening, both the office of Attorney General Mark Herring, a Democrat, and House Republicans cited what they considered bright spots about the judge’s order.
Herring’s office says the Attorney General had asked the court to “proceed promptly with the remedial phase” and that the court did so. House Republicans noted that the judge’s order still gives the legislature an opportunity to redraw the map.
Democrats have argued that Republicans are dragging their feet on redistricting, hoping to keep the current House map in place for next year’s elections. At the Aug. 30 special session Northam called, Democrats proposed a map that would alter two dozen districts in order to fix the 11. Republicans dismissed the proposal as a partisan gerrymander but did not indicate when it would come up for a vote.
House Republican leaders told the court Wednesday that they will return to Richmond in mid-October for a possible vote on a redistricting plan. GOP leaders also indicated that they will unveil their own redistricting proposal in time for a Sept. 27 elections committee meeting.