Opinion | A dishonest end to one person, one vote in Virginia


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And so we have come to the low, dishonest end of the long court fight over the constitutionality of Virginia’s 2021 House of Delegates elections.

US District Court Judge David. J. Novak ruled that the plaintiffs in the second lawsuit seeking to compel House of Delegates elections this November lacked standing to sue (never mind the 40 year-old precedent in Cosner v. Dalton) and that his court just didn’t have the power to require new elections because, among other things, “the global pandemic delayed the reapportionment process just as it disrupted nearly every aspect of American life.”

Which is a bit like saying the dog ate the redistricting process, and we all know how darned hard it is to control that dog, right? Right?

Were Novak at all interested in doing his job, he could have reached this conclusion more than a year ago, saving everyone a lot of time, effort and money.

But Novak preferred to blame others for his own major role in the dithering. Not without reason, of course. Dithering was the major legal strategy from the beginning of this case more than a year ago.

Former attorney general Mark R. Herring (D) rightly came in for a round of criticism for his office’s rope-a-dope legal strategy — one Novak could have nipped in the bud, but refused to for, uh, reasons. Others could have gotten similar treatment for their studied public silence on the case — from ex-House speaker Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax) to ex-governor Ralph Northam (D) to any of the Democratic pols who will say just about anything on social media but couldn’t find a public word to say about this lawsuit.

There’s much more judicial hand waving in Novak’s opinion. If one believes in the principle of one person, one vote, and that the convenience of politicians and governments should always take a back seat to voters’ rights and privileges, then Novak’s opinion will not only disappointing but also infuriate.

It’s of a piece with the legal strategy Herring and the rest of the Democratic statewide leadership blessed and employed throughout 2021. For a crew that can’t say enough about how bad Republicans are on voting rights and how big a threat the GOP poses to democracy itself, Virginia Democrats showed where their real interests lie: protecting incumbens.

As for the alphabet soup of organizations that make a good living on the voting rights issue, well, they were conspicuously absent from Novak’s courtroom.

And as for Virginia Republicans, kudos to Herring’s apt pupil, Attorney General Jason Miyares, for carrying the Democratic strategy to its conclusion. And as for the rest of the GOP? As they were always the biggest beneficiaries of Democratic legal strategy, they have even more reason to celebrate Novak’s legal punt.

As for everyone else in Virginia, take lead plaintiff Jeff Thomas’s remarks to heart, as reported in The Post:

“Taking away people’s rights seems to be what federal courts are doing these days, consistent with today’s radical reinterpretation of the long-settled right to one-person one-vote. It’s straight politics,” Thomas said in a statement.

But it’s also very on-brand for Virginia’s political class, which, in a number of unflattering ways, still can’t (or won’t) shake its Byrd machine roots.

One key element of Byrdism was carefully managing the electorate — which then meant not allowing people of the wrong color, ideology or social standing the right to vote.

Funny how that still holds, considering another of the plaintiffs, Loudoun County NAACP president Michelle Thomas, lives in a House district that has 50.8 percent more residents than the state’s least populous House district.

The harm there? Loudoun County’s Black and Brown voters will remain woefully — and unconstitutionally — underrepresented in the House of Delegates until January 2024.

That’s the Virginia Way — low and dishonest to its core.



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