Virginia Supreme Court rejects GOP nominees for special legislative map redistricting position

All of the states are redrawing their respective legislative district maps following the 2020 census, but that process hasn’t gone particularly smoothly in a handful of states, including in Virginia.

The Virginia Supreme Court on Friday rejected several nominees put forward by Republicans, as well as one Democratic nominee, to be “special masters” in the redistricting process due to concerns over partisan conflicts of interest, Virginia Mercury reported.

The state supreme court was compelled to take over the redistricting process with appointed special masters to redraw the maps after a special bipartisan commission tasked with that responsibility failed to do so because of partisan gridlock.

Nominee criteria

The Virginia Supreme Court issued a unanimous order signed by the chief justice Friday that explicitly disqualified one of the three Republican nominees for the special master position over “conflict of interest” concerns which it deemed were also likely applicable to the other two nominees, and ordered the state’s GOP leaders to submit three new nominees.

The court also noted a potential problem with one of the three Democratic nominees and similarly instructed Democratic leaders to submit one additional nominee for consideration.

The order reminded both sides that the special master position was of “quasi-judicial capacity” and therefore required nominees to be “neutral” and free of any “conflicts of interest” and that they “must not act as advocates or representatives of any political party.”

The problem, according to Virginia Mercury, is that all three Republican nominees appeared to fall short of that requirement, particularly the one who was explicitly disqualified, Thomas Bryan, as he was recently a paid consultant for the Virginia Senate Republican Caucus. The other two GOP nominees had also done redistricting work on behalf of Republican organizations in the past as well.

As for the unnamed Democratic nominee who was seemingly rejected, that person had reportedly expressed concerns over their ability to work well with another individual from the opposite party, which would be disqualifying given that the court will choose one special master from both sides and those two will be required to work together to draw the new district maps.

Partisan bickering

U.S. News reported that the redistricting process in Virginia, as in many other states, used to be handled by the state’s General Assembly, but a voter referendum passed in 2020 had created a special bipartisan redistricting commission in hopes of avoiding highly partisan and gerrymandered maps that heavily favored one political party over the other.

Unfortunately, that bipartisan commission ended up evenly split on virtually all of the proposed maps, which, according to the new law, resulted in the intervention of the court and appointment of ostensibly neutral and independent special masters to complete the task with the court’s supervision.

The court’s order Friday gave both sides until Monday, Nov. 15, to submit the new nominees as requested. Once the court chooses the two special masters from the pool of nominees, they will be given 30 days to draw up new maps for the court to review and decide upon.

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