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Second suit aiming for new House of Delegates election dismissed

The exterior of the state capitol in Richmond.
A lawsuit brought by three Virginia residents who argued their right to fair representation was violated by last year’s elections in the Virginia House of Delegates was dismissed Monday.  (File photo: Craig Carper/VPM News)

A federal court judge on Monday dismissed a second lawsuit seeking new House of Delegates elections this year.

The lawsuit was brought by three Virginia residents who argued their right to fair representation was violated by last year’s House elections. That vote was held on a decade-old political map due to pandemic-related delays in redistricting. Districts had become unevenly represented as some areas grew or shrank faster than others, diminishing or increasing the value of votes cast in different districts.  

The U.S. Census Bureau was late delivering demographic data the state needed to draw new maps in 2021, a slowdown connected to the pandemic. Then Virginia’s new redistricting committee failed to reach an agreement on new boundaries, forcing the Virginia Supreme Court to appoint experts to draw the new lines in December 2021. In the absence of new lines, House of Delegates candidates ran in districts based on 2010 census data.

U.S. District Court Judge David Novak said the defendants — including Commissioner of Elections Susan Beals, State Board of Elections Chairperson Robert Brink and the Virginia Department of Elections — weren’t responsible for that slowdown. And he argued the court “cannot usurp the authority that the Constitution grants Virginia over its elections.”

Novak’s opinion also noted that the House of Delegates will hold elections next year, which he said limited the impact of the unevenly populated districts.

“Any harm will last only one session of the General Assembly, and could be ameliorated in subsequent terms,” wrote Novak, who was appointed to the federal court by former President Donald Trump in 2019.

Jeff Thomas, an author and PhD student at Virginia Commonwealth University who filed the suit, argued against the judge’s opinion but said he had no plans to appeal.

"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,” Thomas wrote in an email to VPM News. “It's not surprising: It's straight politics."

In June, a three-judge panel in the same court tossed a separate lawsuit filed by Richmond attorney Paul Goldman seeking new House elections in 2022. In the opinion, also authored by Novak, the judge said Goldman lacked standing to bring the case because his House district was underpopulated compared to the “ideal” district based on Virginia’s population — meaning his vote was more heavily weighted than other Virginians in 2021.