Congressional redistricting authority passes to Virginia Supreme Court, legislators nominate special masters

The Virginia Supreme Court will now have the authority to draft new congressional maps in the state after the Virginia Redistricting Commission did not meet the Nov. 8, 2021, deadline to submit a plan for U.S. House districts. Under the constitutional amendment that established the commission, party leaders of the House of Delegates and Senate must nominate three special masters from each party to assist the court in the redistricting process, which they did on Nov. 1. The court will then select one special master from each party’s list of nominees. 

State Democrats nominated three professors, Bernard N. Grofman, Nathaniel Persily, and Bruce E. Cain, who participated in previous redistricting efforts. Grofman is a political science professor at the University of California, Irvine, and assisted in drawing Virginia’s congressional districts in 2015 and the Virginia House of Delegates districts in 2018. Persily is a Stanford Law School professor and has served as a special master for drawing legislative and congressional maps in other states, including Maryland, Georgia, New York, Connecticut, and North Carolina. Cain, a professor at Stanford University’s School of Humanities and Sciences, helped draw state legislative districts in Arizona in 2002 as a special master and worked as a consultant for redistricting efforts in Maryland.

Republican nominees Thomas Bryan, Adam Kincaid, and Adam Foltz also have previous experience in redistricting. A former U.S. Census Bureau statistician, Bryan is the founder of a consulting firm specializing in demographic analysis and has provided expert witness services to parties involved in state and local redistricting cases. Kincaid previously served as National Republican Congressional Committee redistricting coordinator and is the current executive director of the National Republican Redistricting Trust and Fair Lines America. Foltz is a legislative analyst for the Texas Legislative Council, drew maps for the Wisconsin State Assembly Republican Caucus in 2011-2012, and defended Wisconsin in court cases challenging district maps.

The Virginia Supreme Court requires that nominees possess the “requisite qualifications and experience to serve as a special master and should have no conflicts of interest.” Members of both parties said the opposing party’s nominees did not meet the latter criteria. In a letter to the court, Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw (D) said, “there can be no doubt that the records and prior conduct of the minority’s special master nominees ‘create in reasonable minds a perception’ that their ability to carry out their responsibilities ‘with integrity and impartiality is impaired.’” Virginia Senate Republican Caucus Press Secretary Jeff Ryer said the Democrats’ nominees are “all extreme-left academics with well-demonstrated records of considering one and only one criteria when it comes to drawing district lines: What will benefit Democrats most.”

The Supreme Court scheduled meetings from Nov. 8-10, 2021, to discuss the selection of special masters, which they could select as early as this week. Once selected, the special masters will have 30 days to draft a proposal to submit to the court for review. The court invited the public and elected officials to comment on the process by emailing written comments.