Republican leaders in the Virginia House of Delegates have formally asked the U.S. Supreme Court to step in and block a lower court’s efforts to redraw the House map for the 2019 elections.
In a court filing released Thursday, House Speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, asked the Supreme Court to grant an emergency stay that would halt a lower court’s efforts to enact a new House map to fix 11 districts found to be racially gerrymandered. Republicans are appealing the ruling, and the Supreme Court has agreed to hear new arguments in the case early next year.
Because the lower court could be overturned, Cox said, putting a new map in place would “cause confusion” as candidates and voters prepare for legislative primaries next June.
“It makes no sense to implement a remedial map given that the Supreme Court may uphold the legislatively-enacted map in its entirety or even just in part,” Cox said in a news release. “If the Supreme Court upholds even just one House district, the entire process undertaken by the lower court will have to start over.”
Democrats have accused Republicans of stalling for time, and have urged the courts to proceed with the creation of a map that would correct the existing map’s constitutional flaws.
“The Republican Virginia legislature should stop wasting taxpayer money on frivolous motions to defend unconstitutional maps,” said Democratic lawyer Marc E. Elias, who filed the suit challenging the districts on behalf of a group of Virginia voters.
Last week, a three-judge panel in the U.S. Eastern District Court rejected a similar request, forcing Cox to take his case to the high court. Cox also reiterated his request that the 2019 House primaries be pushed back to give the courts more time to settle the matter and make it easier for election officials to respond.
In June, a three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia ruled that the General Assembly used improper racial targets to draw African-American voters into majority-minority districts during the 2011 redistricting.
The court has appointed an expert to redraw the map, a process likely to result in more African-American voters being redrawn into neighboring districts. That could potentially lead to a more Democratic-friendly House map for the 2019 elections, when Democrats could take control of the House by picking up just two seats.
Republicans are bringing in some extra legal firepower for their Supreme Court fight. On Wednesday, Cox announced that he had hired former U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement, a veteran Supreme Court litigator, to handle the appeal. Clement worked with the House GOP the first time the Supreme Court heard the redistricting case in 2016.
The lower court upheld the districts in a 2015 ruling. The Supreme Court instructed the lower court to reconsider the case using a narrow legal standard.
Since then, Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh have joined the Supreme Court, making it difficult to predict how the court could rule on the second go-round.
The lower court has said it intends to enact its map by March.
It’s not clear when the Supreme Court might rule on Cox’s request.