The Supreme Court of Virginia November 19 named Bernard N. Grofman and Sean P. Trende to be the Special Masters tasked to work together to draw single redistricting maps for the state’s congressional districts and the two legislative chambers.
The Court’s order noted that while the Special Masters were nominated by the General Assembly’s party leaders, they “shall serve as officers of the Court in a quasi-judicial capacity. Consequently, the Special Masters shall be neutral and shall not act as advocates or representatives of any political party.” The Court added that the Special Masters, by accepting their appointments, warranted that they had no conflicts of interest that would preclude them from “exercising independent judgment, dispassionately following the Court’s instructions, or objectively applying the government decision-making criteria.”
The Court instructed the Special Masters to present their proposed maps “as soon as reasonably practicable,” but no later than 30 days from the Court’s order. That mandated date appears to put the deadline in the middle of the holiday season, during the week before Christmas.
The Special Masters were instructed not to “consult with any political parties, partisan organizations, outside experts, or any other person or entity except for their personal support staff, the staff of the Court, and three Division of Legislative Services staff members who supported the Virginia Redistricting Commission, Amigo Wade, Julie Smith, and Meg Lamb. But the Court encouraged the Special Masters to review “comments submitted by any entity or person to the Court’s public comment email address, . Notably, the Court ordered the Special Masters to resolve “any disputes” by good-faith efforts to find a compromise consistent with governing legal requirements.” The Redistricting Commission had voted to hire two partisan map drawers who were never able to present a single, compromise map.
The Court directed the Special Masters to comply with federal and state law in this order of precedence: the U.S. Constitution, particularly Article I, Section 2, and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment; applicable federal statutes, particularly the Voting Rights Act of 1965; the Virginia Constitution; and applicable Virginia statutes. In presenting that list of priorities, the Court did not include any of the additional criteria that the Redistricting Commission had voted to accept, such as preserving jurisdictional boundaries or starting the map drawing from “scratch.”
Grofman, a political science professor at the University of California at Irvine, is no stranger to redistricting in Virginia because he served as Special Master to redraw Virginia’s 3rd Congressional District in 2015 and 11 House of Delegate districts in 2018 when federal courts ruled that the 2010 redistricting process amounted to impermissible racial gerrymandering. Redrawing those districts ultimately impacted the boundaries of some 30 House of Delegate districts.
Trende was one of three nominees put forth by the Republican leadership after the Court expressed concerns about their first three choices. Trende, a lawyer, is senior elections analyst for RealClearPolitics and a non-resident fellow of the American Enterprise Institute.
–Sara Fitzgerald, LWV-Falls Church