RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A Virginia civil rights group wants to join a lawsuit seeking to force new elections for the state’s House of Delegates this year, but a judge said Monday that the The court first had to decide whether the Democratic activist who brought the lawsuit has legal standing to sue.
Paul Goldman, a former Democratic party chairman in the state, is arguing in a federal lawsuit that House members elected in November 2021 must run again in 2022 under newly redrawn maps that properly align legislative precincts with population changes. The 2021 elections were supposed to be the first held under the constitutional redistricting required as part of the 2020 census. But as census results were delayed, the state held elections under the old legislative boundaries as new lines had not yet been drawn.
Goldman has been the sole plaintiff in the lawsuit since he filed it last June, but the Loudoun County NAACP wrote a letter to the court last week asking to join the lawsuit as an affected party. In the letter, the Rev. Michelle C. Thomas, president of the Loudoun branch of the NAACP, said the use of outdated maps in the 2021 election “suppressed the vote, diluted the votes, and diminished the representation” of the 637 band members and thousands of people of color living in the county.
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“African American residents of Loudoun and people of color living in disproportionate districts continue to face electoral discrimination, disenfranchisement of voters, while being denied their constitutional rights to fair elections and to adequate legislative representation, based on the current population distribution,” Thomas wrote in the letter. .
Former Attorney General Mark Herring tried to have the lawsuit thrown out on sovereign immunity grounds. U.S. District Judge David Novak dismissed claims against former Gov. Ralph Northam and several other defendants, but declined to dismiss claims against four state election officials.
Since then, much of the argument in the case has focused on whether Goldman has established that it has standing to sue by showing that it was harmed by the state’s use of the former district lines in the 2021 election. Last week, the 4th United States Circuit Court of Appeals returned the issue of resignation to the United States District Court for determination.
In a hearing on Monday, Novak said the appeals court’s order only applies to whether Goldman has standing and does not apply to others who want to join. the case.
Thomas said the Loudoun NAACP branch is considering whether it will take its own legal action to try to force an election this year. She said the group plans to consult with the Virginia NAACP and the national NAACP before making a decision.
“Loudoun County is one of the hardest hit counties in Virginia,” Thomas said after the hearing. “We have a vested interest in making sure…they have fair representation.”
Novak also criticized Herring’s office for causing lengthy delays in the case by seeking its dismissal on primarily procedural grounds and failing to take Goldman’s legal arguments seriously.
“This case was a mess of your predecessors,” Novak told attorneys in the office of Attorney General Jason Miyares, a Republican who defeated Herring in the November election.
Democrats held a 55-45 majority in the House of Delegates until Republicans took control of the chamber in the 2021 election. Republicans now hold a 52-48 majority. Republicans also won the offices of Governor, Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General.
In arguments before the 4th Circuit earlier this month, Solicitor General Andrew Ferguson argued that the 2021 election was “perfectly constitutional.”
Goldman’s lawsuit argues that new elections must be held this year according to new maps that were approved by the Virginia Supreme Court in December.
If Goldman loses on the standing question, its lawsuit will be thrown out. The election would then be held on its normal two-year schedule, in 2023. But the NAACP could still file a separate lawsuit or join Goldman’s lawsuit if the court finds it has standing.
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