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Governor calls for special session to redraw House of Delegates districts

RICHMOND, Va. -- Virginia Governor Ralph Northam has called for the Virginia General Assembly to meet in a special session August 30 with the purpose of redrawing the Virginia House of Delegates districts.

"Virginians deserve that clarity," Governor Northam said in a statement about his action. "I am calling a special session so we can focus our collective attention on doing what’s right: working together to draw lines that represent Virginians fairly."

Earlier this year, a federal court ordered Virginia to redraw legislative districts for the House of Delegates because the court said 11 districts, including many in Richmond and Petersburg, were racially gerrymandered in 2011, when the maps were originally constructed.

Republican leaders, who lead the effort to redraw Virginia’s House map following the 2010 census, planned to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

A route Virginia House of Delegates Speaker Kirk Cox said he planned to carry out.

"We fully intend to continue to pursue both our request for a stay from the Eastern District Court and our appeal to the United States Supreme Court," Speaker Cox said in a statement. "Drawing a map that can withstand legal scrutiny is neither a quick nor simple process. The General Assembly must establish criteria, hold committee meetings, and gather public input from across the Commonwealth.

"The Special Session called by the Governor gives him and Delegate Toscano the opportunity to present a redistricting plan and demonstrate a willingness to engage in a good-faith effort. We look forward to reviewing their proposal."

The initial case was brought by 12 Virginia voters who alleged that the General Assembly “predominantly relied on race in constructing 12 majority-black Virginia House of Delegates districts” during the redistricting process. The voters argued that state legislators applied the minimum black voting age population (BVAP) percentage to the 11 districts, which was not necessary for black voters to elect their preferred candidate in those districts therefore diluting voting power in other districts.

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld one of the 12 challenged districts in 2015; however, the high court sent the 11 remaining districts back down to the Eastern District to consider whether race was the main factor in drawing lines. In a 2-1 opinion, the court ruled that it was and ordered the General Assembly to redraw the House map by October 30 in a way that “rectifies the constitutional deficiencies” of the current legislative map.

Five of the challenged districts are in the Richmond-Tri Cities region. Those districts include House districts 63, 69, 70, 71, and 74. The remaining six districts are in the Hampton Roads region.

This is a developing story and will be updated throughout the day.