By J.R. Hoeft
Hoeft, a retired Naval officer, has been writing about Virginia policy and politics for nearly two decades. He hosts a podcast “The J. R. Hoeft Show” at jrhoeft.com. He lives in Chesapeake.
Gov. Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring were pretty happy partisans this past week.
The Supreme Court decided by a 5-4 vote in Virginia House of Delegates v. Bethune-Hill that the House of Delegates lacks standing to appeal a lower court’s ruling that mandated eleven House districts be redrawn by a special master.
Of course, it wasn’t just eleven districts that were redrawn. In total, 26 districts were affected and the Virginia Public Access Project calculated that six of the new districts now favor the Democrats. In a House where Republicans hold the majority by the narrowest of margins, a six-seat swing does not bode well for their prospects of holding onto that majority following the election this coming Nov. 5.
“This is a big win for democracy in Virginia,” said Herring in a press release. “I’m really proud of the work my team and I did to protect the new, constitutional districts, and to protect the voting rights of all Virginians.”
Work? Reality: Herring’s work was to do nothing. He failed to defend the state – again.
The irony, which has been very little reported in the whole fiasco, is that then-state Sen. Mark Herring voted in favor of these lines in 2011.
And so did then-state Sen. Ralph Northam.
His take now?
“I am pleased that this fall, every Virginian, no matter who they are or where they live, will cast their ballots in fair and constitutional districts.”
Does this mean that Northam and Herring for that matter are acknowledging their role in voting for unfair and unconstitutional districts, if that’s what they really believe?
The basis for the lines in the first place is that Virginia still must comply with the Equal Protection Clause and the Voting Rights Act.
Because of the VRA, special consideration must be made to have a percentage of African-Americans be the majority in some districts. The percentage the House used at the time for the districts chosen was 55 percent. The lower court thought this number was too high, but it is hardly “cramming,” a racially-charged term, if ever. This is how reporter Marie Albiges writing in both The Virginian-Pilot and The Daily Press characterized it in her report.
The media, under the influence of the two men accused mere months ago of wearing blackface — the attorney general even admitting so — have completely drunk the Kool-Aid being offered by those men that the district drawing effort was racially-motivated.
If that premise is accepted, then the media should equally hold Northam and Herring culpable. I repeat, they voted in favor of the lines. But why did they?
Because on the Senate side of the equation, where Democrats held a majority in 2011, they packed as many Republicans as they could find in specific districts.
Let me illustrate it to you plainly. Corey Stewart lost a lopsided U.S. Senate race to Sen. Tim Kaine, 57 percent to 41 percent. In 14 state Senate districts currently held by Republicans, Stewart won in all those districts!
The term in the political business is “partisan ghetto.” And it’s odious.
This explains why the Virginia Senate did not join the House in their fight over the lines. They were arguing over two different issues. It was also the Democrats who drew those state Senate lines, while the GOP has the majority now. The argument before the court only affected the Virginia House of Delegates.
This makes Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s argument that “One House of its bicameral legislature cannot alone continue the litigation against the will of its partners in the legislative process” entirely laughable and devoid of common sense.
In the coming weeks, it is likely that the court will hear other cases related to redistricting — and they are based on partisanship. It will be interesting to see if the seemingly odd coalition of Justices Thomas, Gorsuch, Sotomayor, Kagan, and Ginsburg hold up or if this is a feint to keep redistricting where it belongs: in the statehouse.
The bottom-line: Don’t believe the false narrative coming from Northam, Herring, and a malleable media. They are masking the truth. Then again, they’re used to masks.