RICHMOND, Va -- A Richmond judge said some legislative districts in Virginia are shaped like “salamanders,” before he allowed an anti-gerrymandering case to move forward Tuesday.
Judge W. Reilly Marchant denied a summary judgment request from lawyers representing Republican leaders in the House of Delegates. Granting the motion would have dismissed the case before it went to trial.
The lawsuit, filed by redistricting advocacy group One Virginia 2021, claims the General Assembly ignored a constitutional requirement to draw compact legislative districts. The suit says GOP leaders drew the 11 districts named in the suit, included the 72nd House District in Henrico, in order to give their candidates a political advantage in elections.
Judge Marchant’s “salamander” comment was in reference to legislative districts that turn and twist in odd shapes instead of more compact shapes closer to circles or squares.
Gerrymandering, the practice of manipulating electoral districts to favor one political party, is a problem nationwide regardless of the political party in power, according to advocates.
Virginia’s current General Assembly legislative maps were drawn in 2011.
Wyatt Durrette, who is representing One Virginia, said the lawsuit was filed in 2015 because state legislators failed to pass meaningful redistricting reform since 2011.
"I don't care what political party it benefits. The current process is an abject failure to create competitive districts with proper representative government,” Durette said.
Attorneys defending the GOP plan declined an interview following the hearing but said they were confident about their case when it gets to trial.
During Tuesday’s hearing, Richard Ralie, who is representing House leaders, said the current maps passed with bipartisan support in 2011. Plus, Ralie said the districts do meet the compactness requirement as laid out in Virgina’s Constitution.
The lawsuit asks the court to declare the current maps unconstitutional and order the General Assembly to draw new, more compact maps.
The trial is scheduled to begin on March 13th. A final motions hearing in the case is scheduled for Thursday, March 2nd.