Party Leaders Submit Additional Nominees to Be Special Masters

The party leaders of the General Assembly responded November 17 to the Supreme Court of Virginia’s request for the names of additional nominees to serve as special masters to redraw the state’s legislative and congressional districts.

The Republican leaders submitted three more names with a brief identification:

  • Sean Trende, senior elections analyst, RealClearPolitics and nonresident fellow, American Enterprise Institute;
  • Doug Johnson, president, National Demographics Corporation;
  • Justin Levitt, vice president, National Demographics Corporation. (Levitt is a political science professor at California State University, not the Loyola Law School professor of the same name who is now serving as a senior policy adviser on voting rights at the White House.)

The court November 12 rejected one of the Republicans’ original nominees, noting he had served as a paid consultant for the Virginia Republican Senate Caucus. It also expressed concern about the partisan background of two other nominees. The court granted a request by the Republican leaders for more time to submit names, but declined their request for a “telephone status conference” to discuss the qualifications of special masters. In that request, a lawyer for the leaders said they hoped to avoid “having their second round of nominations followed up by subsequent disqualification. . . .”

At the court’s request, the Democratic leadership also submitted the name of an additional nominee, R. Michael Alvarez, a professor of political and computational social science at Caltech, and co-director of the Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project. The court requested an additional name after an unidentified Democratic nominee expressed concerns about following the mandates of the Virginia code, which call for partisan special masters to work together to produce the maps.

Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw, who had led the challenge to the Republicans’ original nominees, also raised concerns about the timetable that might govern the work of the special masters. Saslaw noted that unless the court directed otherwise, the special masters’ proposed maps was to be released 30 days after their appointment. “Given the significance of this once-a-decade process to every Virginian, as well as the interests in transparency and public engagement reflected in the Redistricting Amendment, we believe it is important to allow for a robust period of public comment following the release of the proposed maps.” Saslaw called on the court to schedule such a period so that it did not conflict with the religious observances of the upcoming holiday season. He also called on the court “to establish a formal briefing process with dates for submissions from the majority and minority caucuses.”

Further information about the court’s redistricting process is available here.  The court is also accepting public comments, and, as of this writing, has received (and posted) 289 pages of them on its website. 

As the Virginia Redistricting Commission broke down over partisan divisions, the Republicans regained the governorship in the November 2 election, and appeared to win control of the House of Delegates, pending a recount in two districts. 

In another development, Del. Marcus Simon (D-Falls Church) submitted his resignation November 12 as one of the commission’s legislative members. In his letter, Simon said that now that the process had moved on to the Supreme Court, his resignation would permit him to be able to “participate more fully in the current phase of the redistricting process.” One citizen member and one legislator member resigned during the time the commission was actively meeting, and were replaced by others. 

–Sara Fitzgerald, LWV-Falls Church

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