RICHMOND — A federal court has appointed the same expert who redrew Virginia’s congressional map in 2015 to draw new House of Delegates lines to address racial gerrymandering.
Thursday’s appointment of University of California-Irvine political science professor Bernard Grofman was a victory for the Democratic plaintiffs who successfully challenged the constitutionality of 11 House districts in a long-running lawsuit. It was a likely setback for Republicans trying to preserve the House’s current partisan makeup.
Attorney General Mark Herring, a Democrat, suggested Grofman as the outside redistricting expert, known as a “special master” in court parlance.
Marc Elias, the Democratic lawyer who led the challenge against the House map, called Grofman “a great choice” and “one we endorsed.”
“As a lawyer and a Virginian, I look forward to new, fair maps for 2019,” Elias said on Twitter.
House Republicans had urged the court not to choose Grofman and criticized the way Grofman handled the 2015 process.
In the earlier case, which also involved racial gerrymandering fixes, Grofman redrew the 4th District congressional lines around Richmond to create a new Democratic-leaning district. The changes led to the election of U.S. Rep. Donald McEachin, D-4th, and caused then-Rep. Randy Forbes to try to jump from the 4th to the coastal 2nd District. Forbes lost a Republican primary to Scott Taylor, the Republican who currently represents the 2nd District.
In a court filing, attorneys for House Republicans called the 2015 redistricting “a disservice to Virginia residents of all political stripes.”
“This deprived Virginia of a high-ranking member of Congress, who was in line to sit on the House Armed Services Committee, to represent the Norfolk region that relies heavily on federal military presence to support its local economy,” the House GOP’s lawyers wrote.
A spokesman for House Speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, declined to comment on Grofman’s appointment Thursday.
Elias’ team said Grofman’s experience with Virginia redistricting data “would facilitate an efficient remedial process.”
In June, a three-judge panel ruled that state lawmakers improperly used race during the 2011 redistricting process to draw African-American voters into certain majority minority districts. The districts in question are mainly located in the greater Richmond region and Hampton Roads.
The court had ordered the General Assembly to redraw the lines by Oct. 30. But Gov. Ralph Northam indicated he would veto maps being crafted by House Republicans, putting the matter back into the court’s hands.
The court is planning to hold a telephone conference Friday to determine a schedule for enacting a new redistricting plan by March 28.