By: Emily Wagman
William & Mary Law School alumni Brian Cannon ’11 and Nick Mueller ’12 are a force in the latest round of redistricting in the state of Virginia. Cannon, Executive Director of OneVirginia2021, is leading an effort to improve fairness in the redistricting process in Virginia. OneVirginia2021: Virginians for Fair Redistricting has filed a lawsuit challenging 11 state legislative districts in the Richmond Circuit Court. Mueller, working with the Richmond firm DurretteCrump, is one of the lead attorneys on the case. As students, both Cannon and Mueller participated in William & Mary Law School’s award-winning redistricting team during the Virginia Redistricting Competition in 2011.
With several other lawsuits challenging Virginia districts on federal constitutional and statutory grounds, this suit is unique because it is a state-based challenge of the districts. The Virginia Constitution, like most other states’, has three redistricting requirements. Districts must be compact, contiguous, and have roughly equal population figures. The 11 districts at issue were chosen because arguably none of them are compact. Jeff Schapiro, in his September 12, 2015 Richmond Times-Dispatch column on the suit, described two of the challenged districts (Delegate Jimmie Massie’s and Senator Chuck Colgan’s) as “a partially eaten crescent-shaped cookie” and “an elongated version of the boot of Italy[,]” respectively.
Under Cannon’s leadership, OneVirginia2021 advocates for an objective redistricting process, and calls for the use of non-partisan data in the redistricting process. Based on the organization’s concerns, the complaint alleges that the General Assembly failed to “make a good-faith effort to draw compact districts and instead subordinated the constitutional requirement of compactness to other political and policy concerns.” Notably, these political concerns transcend party lines – of the 11 challenged districts, five are held by Democrats and six are held by Republicans. Of those legislators, some are supporters of redistricting reform and some are not.
Ultimately, this suit exemplifies OneVirginia2021’s multi-partisan approach by undercutting the common misconception that gerrymandering is a single-party problem. By filing a lawsuit challenging the compactness of 11 districts, OneVirginia2021 is calling attention to the fact that state legislators ignored explicit constitutional criteria in an effort to benefit themselves. This lawsuit is the perfect opportunity for the bi-partisan plaintiffs and the rest of Virginia to let the General Assembly know that the citizens of the Commonwealth want to choose their own legislators and end the practice of letting politicians choose their voters.