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Four new redistricting special master nominees forwarded to Virginia Supreme Court for state redistricting
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Four new redistricting special master nominees forwarded to Virginia Supreme Court for state redistricting

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Virginia Supreme Court, which is housed at Ninth and Franklin streets.

Virginia Redistricting: Here's why it matters

RICHMOND — Leaders of Virginia’s House and Senate Republicans and Democrats have nominated four additional candidates to aid the Virginia Supreme Court in redrawing the state’s legislative and congressional district maps.

As directed by the justices who rejected the three GOP’s first nominees last week, Republicans on Wednesday submitted three new candidates: Sean Trende, senior elections analyst for RealClearPolitics and Nonresident Fellow with the American Enterprise Institute; Doug Johnson, president of the National Demographics Corporation; and Justin Levitt, vice president of the National Demographics Corporation.

The Democrats nominated R. Michael Alvarez, a professor of political and computational social science at California Institute of Technology and Co-Director of the Caltech/MIT Voting, as a candidate after the justices said they had concerns about one of the Democrats’ initial nominees who asserted a concern or reservation suggesting he may not be willing to serve.

Under a constitutional amendment approved by voters last year, redrawing districts using new census data fell to the state Supreme Court after the Virginia Redistricting Commission ended in partisan deadlock. The justices asked party leaders in the Virginia House of Delegates and Senate to submit three or more nominees to assist the court in the job.

The court, by majority vote, will select one candidate from each side of the aisle. Rules published by the court state, “The two special masters will work together to develop plans to be submitted to the Court for its consideration.”

Unless the court decides on a different time frame, “the special masters will file their proposed plans with the Clerk of the Supreme Court no later than 30 calendar days after entry of such order by the Court.”

Senate Minority Leader Tommy Norment, R-James City, and House Republican Leader Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, wrote in their letter submitting the new nominees, “We have tried in good faith to interpret the criteria set forth by the Court absent additional clarification. All three are highly qualified experts in redistricting matters and American demography who would be an asset to this Court as it considers potential redistricting plans.

“We hope that the new framework established for challenges will not lead to a long process of disqualification motions. We do not wish to derail the Court’s critical work or deprive the Court of the most qualified candidates currently available in the country,” they added.

Norment and Gilbert added, “the history of the redistricting process nationally and in the Commonwealth of Virginia was, until recently, a traditional legislative process carried out by elected officials belonging to the respective political parties who hired experts to assist them. Court-appointed special masters for redistricting remain very rare, and there are only a handful of living individuals who have ever served in such a role.”

While not questioning anyone’s integrity, last Friday the justices said they intended to appoint special masters who are qualified and who do not have a conflict of interest. They cited the work performed by one of the first GOP nominees for the Republican Senate Caucus in rejecting his nomination and added the court “has concerns about the ability of the remaining Republican nominees to serve.”

In his letter Wednesday to the high court, Senate Majority Leader Richard Saslaw, D-Fairfax, wrote, “We believe it is important to allow for a robust period of public comment following the release of the proposed maps.”

“We also urge the Court to establish a formal briefing process with dates for submissions from the majority and minority caucuses,” wrote Saslaw.

The first three nominees from the Democrats have all served as redistricting special masters in Virginia or elsewhere. They are: Bernard N. Grofman, a professor of political science at the University of California, Irvine, who served as special master to courts in drawing Virginia congressional districts in 2015 and the Virginia House of Delegates districts in 2018; Nathaniel Persily, a professor at the Stanford Law School who has served as a court-appointed special master for state legislative and congressional maps in other states and the author of “Solutions to Polarization,” published in 2015; and Bruce E. Cain, a professor at the School of Humanities and Sciences at Stanford University, who served as a court-appointed special master to draw state legislative districts in Arizona in 2002 and has been a redistricting consultant to government agencies including the Attorney General of Maryland.

“We hope that the new framework established for challenges will not lead to a long process of disqualification motions. We do not wish to derail the Court’s critical work or deprive the Court of the most qualified candidates currently available in the country.”

— Senate Minority Leader Tommy Norment, R-James City, and House Republican Leader Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, in their letter submitting the new nominees

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