Monday, February 28, 2011

Virginia redistricting lawsuit: not so fast says federal court

Apparently some citizens and attorneys feel successful Virginia redistricting is an unlikely conclusion, and decided to file a lawsuit in the US District Court for the Western district of Virginia to jumpstart the redistricting process. In the case of Carter v. State Board of Elections, the plaintiffs are individuals claiming their votes are diluted in state Senate elections under the current districting plan.

See the complaint here:

This case filed on February 4, 2011 appears to have been prepared and filed with the matter of days after updated census information came out. The plaintiffs allege that as Virginia has divided two party government a deadlock on redistricting is likely, and hence a lawsuit asserting rights to equal protection under the law is not premature.

The case is dismissed

Federal district courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. As such, federal courts have the duty to determine, even without the request of one of the parties to the case, if the federal court has jurisdiction.  Judge Moon, prior to any filings by the defendants, dismissed the case as he determined the federal court does not currently have jurisdiction even if everything the plaintiffs say is true.  This was a mere eleven days after the filing of the Complaint.

Judge Moon's opinion is here:
Judge Moon's order of dismissal is here:

The case is not ripe

Federal courts are only allowed to hear actual current controversies. If an actual controversy does not yet exist the case is not ripe.  Judge Moon indicated this case was being dismissed as it depends on too many future uncertainties and hence the case is not ripe.  For a broader description of the nature of ripeness please see my post regarding the DC healthcare case here:

Is there a method to the madness?
So, what were these plaintiffs thinking? Perhaps they thought they would get a favorable judge. Perhaps they were hoping for publicity from a little bit of controversy. Perhaps they thought they could gain some control over the redistricting process. Right now all they appear to have accomplished is the spending of $350 filing fee, and some attorney and judge time.  Or perhaps there is a more interesting motive.  This case, once dismissed, can be appealed to the Fourth Circuit.  This appeal will likely take the better part of one calendar year. If, for some reason, redistricting does not pass in Virginia, this lawsuit will have been first in challenging the constitutionality of the existing districting plan and may be used as the primary catalyst for injunctive relief.  Or, this case was just an earnest plea to be properly represented, by litigants with no faith in a divided government.

Regardless, we can expect to see substantial litigation regarding any passage of redistricting in 2011 or failure to pass such redistricting. Litigants appear to be ready, if not a little too eager.

For other redistricting posts, primary sources, and other information regarding the Virginia Redistricting process in 2011 please see The Road to Redistricting Litigation in Virginia.

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