Virginia Supreme Court Upholds Prisoner Redistricting Law

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by Tyler Arnold

 

A law that requires a prison inmate’s most recent address to be used for the purpose of redistricting will remain in effect after the Virginia Supreme Court denied a petition.

Legislation that went into effect last year changed how the prison population was considered when redistricting maps. Before the change, an inmate was counted as a resident of the locality in which the prison was located, but the new law requires he or she be counted as a resident of his or her most recent address, before incarceration, if that person was a resident of Virginia.

The new rule is expected to diminish population numbers in rural localities, which have stronger Republican representation. The bill was passed in last year’s General Assembly shortly after Democrats gained a majority in the House of Delegates and the Senate.

Several lawmakers who expect to be negatively impacted by the new law filed a petition to require the state’s redistricting commission to count inmates as residents of the locality in which the prison resides, arguing that it is the commission’s constitutional obligation. The petition claims that the law violates the constitution’s equal population requirement and implements redistricting rules that were not approved in the redistricting constitutional amendment enacted via referendum.

“Allowing the 2021 redistricting process to proceed using [this criteria] injures petitioners because those criteria were not lawfully approved by the people through the constitutional amendment process and because districts that petitioners vote in … will be unconstitutionally constructed,” the petition read.

Petitioners filed for a writ of mandamus, which compels a public official to perform a ministerial duty required by law. However, the court ruled that a writ of mandamus cannot be granted in anticipation of an omission of duties, but only when an official has failed or refused to perform the duty.

“No new maps have been created, thus there is nothing for the elections officials to implement and they cannot be in default of any duty owed by them,” the court ruled. “For these reasons, mandamus is denied.”

The court did not rule on the merits of the law and the ruling does not prevent future lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the maps based on this criteria or other criteria.

Members of the redistricting commission have been meeting over the past few months to create new district maps for upcoming elections. At this stage, Republican and Democratic firms have drawn map proposals, which are currently being reviewed by the commission. The commission ruled that proposed maps cannot give any consideration to current district lines and must be created completely from scratch.

When the commission approves a map, it must then be approved by the House and Senate.

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Tyler Arnold reports on Virginia and West Virginia for The Center Square. He previously worked for the Cause of Action Institute and has been published in Business Insider, USA TODAY College, National Review Online and the Washington Free Beacon.
Photo “Prison” by Falkenpost.

 

 

 

 

 

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