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Va. House elections appear set for next year; judge dismisses second suit

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Virginia State Capitol

Virginia's state Capitol

A federal court has dismissed another suit that sought to prompt elections for the House of Delegates this fall, apparently confirming that the next elections for the House will be in 2023, as scheduled.

Three plaintiffs, including Jeff Thomas, who has written books about Virginia politics and government, and the current and former leaders of the Loudoun County NAACP branch, sued Susan Beals, commissioner of the state Department of Elections, the department itself and Robert Brink, chairman of the Virginia Board of Elections.

The plaintiffs asserted that their votes were unconstitutionally diluted when the state held the 2021 House elections using districts based on 2010 U.S. census figures.

U.S. District Judge David J. Novak of the Eastern District of Virginia said the disruption to redistricting was due to the COVID-19 pandemic and was not the defendants’ fault. He said the court did not have the authority to impose the “extreme remedy” that the plaintiffs sought.

“At bottom, Plaintiffs claim an injury that Defendants did not cause and that the Court cannot redress,” Novak wrote in a 49-page opinion. “Accordingly, Plaintiffs lack standing to bring these claims, and the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction to adjudicate them.”

Last month, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal of a similar suit from Paul Goldman, a former chair of the state Democratic Party. A three-judge panel agreed with a ruling by a three-judge U.S. District Court panel that Goldman did not have the legal standing to sue because he had not demonstrated an injury as a voter or as a potential candidate.

Attorney General Jason Miyares said in a statement: “I’m glad that the court once again agreed with my office, that there is no more uncertainty for voters and legislators, and that we were able to protect the integrity and validity of our 2021 elections.”

Thomas said in a statement that — as in Goldman’s case — the court found that the plaintiffs lacked legal standing to sue, but did not weigh in on the merits.

“Taking away long-settled rights seems to be what federal courts are doing these days, consistent with today’s radical reinterpretation of the right to one-person one-vote,” Thomas said. “They didn’t reach a decision on the merits — it’s purely political.”

All 140 legislative seats will be up for election next year. Democrats hold a 21-19 edge in the Senate, while Republicans hold a 52-48 edge in the House. The outcome of the 2023 contests will be critical to Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s agenda on such issues as abortion, education, taxes and spending, and criminal justice.

The judge wrote that “only the most invidious violations warrant even considering the extreme federal court interference of dissolving an elected state legislature and ordering a new statewide election. Yet Plaintiffs seek that extreme relief here.

“The facts of this case fall far short of even the normal voting rights cases,” he added.

Novak said the pandemic disrupted the reapportionment process, “just as it disrupted nearly every aspect of American life. As a result of this disruption, and through no fault of Defendants, Virginia held an election using districts previously redrawn by this Court.”

The judge wrote that in 2023, Virginia will hold its next House elections using different maps drawn by the Supreme Court of Virginia.

“Here, Plaintiffs do not (and cannot) attack the decisions of a legislature (or any state actor) in drawing the maps. Accordingly, this federal court cannot usurp the authority that the Constitution grants Virginia over its elections, and, therefore, cannot grant the relief requested by Plaintiffs.”

acain@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6645

Twitter: @AndrewCainRTD

Staff writer Charlotte Rene Woods contributed to this report.

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