Court tosses second lawsuit seeking new Virginia elections

August 1, 2022 GMT

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A federal judge on Monday dismissed a second lawsuit seeking to force members of Virginia’s Republican-controlled House of Delegates to hold an unscheduled election this year.

U.S. District Judge David Novak found that federal courts lack the authority to grant the “extreme remedy” of ordering new elections for all 100 members of the state House of Delegates using newly drawn legislative maps.

The ruling came in a lawsuit filed by Jeff Thomas, an author who has written extensively about Virginia politics and government. Thomas and two other plaintiffs — the current and former president of the Loudoun County chapter of the NAACP — alleged their voting strength and political representation were unconstitutionally diluted or weakened by the state’s failure to complete redistricting before the 2021 elections.

The 2021 elections were supposed to be the first held under constitutionally required redistricting based on the 2020 census. But because census results were delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the state held elections under the old legislative boundaries. The new maps were not finalized until December, a month after the elections were held.

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U.S. District Judge David Novak said in his ruling that ordering new elections would “effectively overturn the results of a proper election and dissolve the current House of Delegates,” shortening the terms of the delegates from two years to one.

“Such a commutation by an unelected judiciary would disregard the will of the voters, who elected the Delegates to two-year terms,” Novak wrote.

“Plaintiffs seek a mandatory injunction that would represent a stark interference not only with Virginia’s upcoming electoral process, but also with its already completed election,” Novak added. He said the Supreme Court has consistently warned against such interference by the federal courts.

“Plaintiffs seek such an extreme remedy that it renders it unavailable,” Novak wrote.

Thomas told The Associated Press he does not plan to appeal the ruling.

“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.

In June, a three-judge U.S. District Court panel dismissed a similar lawsuit brought by Democratic Party activist Paul Goldman, finding that Goldman did not have legal standing to sue, either as a voter or a potential candidate.

Goldman’s lawsuit argued House members elected for two-year terms in November 2021 must run again in 2022 under newly redrawn maps that properly align legislative districts with population shifts.

Novak’s ruling appears to signal the end of efforts to hold new House elections this year.

“I’m glad that the court once again agreed with my office, that there is no more uncertainty for voters and legislators, and that we were able to protect the integrity and validity of our 2021 elections,” said Attorney General Jason Miyares.

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Democrats held a 55-45 majority in the House until Republicans took control of the chamber in the November 2021 elections. Republicans now hold a 52-48 majority.

“House Republicans were and remain prepared to hold our majority. We appreciate the court’s expedient decision,” said Garren Shipley, a spokesman for House Speaker Todd Gilbert.