What Happens If They Can’t Agree on a Redistricting Plan?

By Lloyd the Idiot

 Not to get too far ahead of the game, but I wanted to know just what would happen if the General Assembly and the governor didn’t agree on a redistricting plan.  Or, even if they do, what if the Justice Department refuses to preclear it? Or what if there’s a successful court challenge? What happens then?

 The short answer is that someone will file suit in a Virginia federal court and a three-judge panel will hear the case.  If the court follows Cosner v. Dalton, a similar redistricting case from 1981, the November elections would proceed under whatever plan is then in place, whether it’s a new plan or no plan at all, pending a trial on the merits. If the plaintiffs win, the court, as a remedial measure, would enter an order requiring new elections with the amended, court-approved redistricting plan, which likely would be drafted by the legislature. 

Let’s just hope it doesn’t come to that.


  • Loudoun Insider says:

    Another reason for a binding plan from an independent commission not intent on incumbent protectionism.

  • LloydTheIdiot says:

    When you look at the bi-partisan plan that was so clear and so refreshing, you really get sick when looking at the Senate plan, especially for northern Virginia.

  • The Shadow (redux) says:

    I agree, the VA Senate plan is ridiculous. I have a hunch that if this goes through, there will be a group of people who will bring the various issue to the DOJ/Census.

  • Loudoun Lady says:

    What happens if they can’t agree on a Redistricting Plan?

    Steel Cage Death Match – Gov McDonnell Wins.

  • john millhiser says:

    If there is no agreement in time,i.e. tied up in courts, justice dept,legislature/gubernatorial fight,I think we use the existing (current old) districts for up to one year. I also think the court can draw the final plan, but I am not real sure on this.

  • IF it came down to the courts drawing the lines, which I seriously doubt would ever happen, the district court would assign it to a special master who’d work it through with the parties.

  • LarryG says:

    If it goes to Federal Court – it will include BOTH HD and Senate plans.

    and I suspect it will go to the Courts if the Senate refuses to change and McDonnell refuses to change and that would happen soon.

    Further I don’t think the court is going to be inclined towards any process that would degrade back to no-decision political wrangling so I’m betting the court is going to DIRECT based on something that already exists “out there” and of the candidates are the ones created by the State’s universities.

    Wouldn’t it be a real HOOT if the Court made the winning entries the plan?


  • It seems unlikely that the court wouldn’t adopt the House passed plan for the House races. That plan, at least, had significant bipartisan support and doesn’t have the constitutional issues the Senate plan has.

    What the court does on the Senate side is anyone’s case. A deadlock case means the court can pretty much do whatever it wants. I think in that case, the Senate lines may end up being the bipartisan commission’s report. If so, that will be pretty darn interesting.

  • RichmondDem says:

    The Senate plan is little more than an incumbent protection racket.

    The fact that a bunch of late teenagers and twenty-somethings turned out such excellent maps in the college redistricting competition should put our representatives in the General Assembly to shame.

  • NotJohnSMosby says:

    Brian, explain how the House plan passes constitutional muster while the Senate plan doesn’t. Both have lots of split precincts, both split up cities and towns and counties. There’s very, very little difference between the plans as they’ve been written. They both use the exact same methodology.

    If the Dems had the House and the Republicans the Senate and the plans had been submitted exactly the same, Bob would be bitching about the House plan instead of the Senate one.

  • RichmondDem says:

    Oh, I’ll add that the House plan is, too, though less so.

  • edmundburkenator says:

    Our entire methodology with regards to districting needs to be changed. Elected officials trying to figure our how their own political interests can be protected is ultimately a form of conflict of interests (our interests in conflict with theirs).

  • pprados says:

    It looks like Cosner v. Dalton will not directly apply in this scenario. In 1981 the gen assembly and gov had actually passed a plan into law.

    For NJSM: the Senate plan is far worse from a compactness perspective. Compactness is enshrined in the VA Constitution. Split precincts and county boundaries are not explicitly protected, although they should be taken into consideration form a policy perspective. I have not seen a detailed critique of the House plan, whereas there are a few of the Senate plan.

    More explanation on Cosner v. Dalton below.

  • NotJohnSMosby says:

    Look at the HoD proposed 34th district – from McLean to Potomac Falls. The 10th, from Leesburg to Winchester. The fact that House districts are smaller helps with the compactness, but just using those two examples, there are HoD districts drawn very similarly to Senate districts – which are 2.5 times the size of a Delegate district.

    The split precincts could be taken care of reasonably well of the House would agree to the standard 2% range on the size of districts. 1% in a Delegate district is only 800 or so people, and in a place like Fairfax, where the average precinct is 5,000 or so people, only have a +/- of 800 voters means precincts are going to get cleaved into pieces to fit the requirements.

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