Southwest Virginia officials sign lawsuit against redistribution committee



Aug. 22 – TAZEWELL, Virginia – A Southwest Virginia state senator and local officials have signed a lawsuit against the Virginia Redistricting Commission to change the way in which the official residence of incarcerated people is determined.

Senator Travis Hackworth, of R-Tazewell County, leads the charge to overturn a provision under the “statutory criteria” of the commission which demands “[p]persons incarcerated in a federal, state or local correctional facility “to be counted for redistribution” in the locality of their address at the time of incarceration. “

“In other words, the statutory criteria require that incarcerated persons be counted for the redistribution of persons elsewhere than in the place where they are actually imprisoned,” says the trial. “Virginia prisons are generally located in rural districts with greater Republican voting strength …”

The statutory criteria were enacted by a Democrat-controlled general assembly that essentially amended a constitutional amendment approved by voters last year to establish an independent committee to redesign constituencies based on the 2020 census that would be free to vote on. any political influence, depending on the lawsuit.

“By adopting the statutory criteria shortly after submitting the 2020 Amendment to the people, the Virginia General Assembly skillfully regained control of the process, claiming to delegate to the Commission all authority over the future redistribution while retaining power. ultimate in the form of statutory criteria. designed to achieve a specific result, ”says the trial.

This “specific result” concerns the redrawing of district lines for “personal, geographic or partisan advantage”.

“The petitioners reasonably expected that the change in the state constitution would have a real effect: namely, depriving the state legislature of its redistribution authority to prevent politicians from unfairly manipulating district boundaries. to achieve a particular political result. But the General Assembly prevented the creation of a truly independent Commission … “, reads the lawsuit.” The statutory criteria directly threaten the applicants’ individual right to vote by artificially reducing the total number of people in their southern districts – West Virginia, thereby depriving them and the Southwest region of political power – and their districts of necessary public resources – while deliberately diluting the votes of citizens residing in other parts of the Commonwealth.

The lawsuit goes on to say that residents of the communities where the prisons are located “often spend substantial local resources to support their local correctional facilities, including the use of local utility infrastructure (electricity, water, sewage) and infrastructure. (such as local doctors), hospitals and emergency rooms).

Five state or federal correctional facilities are located in the Hackworth District, which includes the counties of Tazewell, Russell and Buchanan, all considered Republican counties and all in population loss from preliminary census counts.

“Artificially reducing the populations of these areas to reallocate their non-voting populations to other parts of the Commonwealth creates real and significant funding and planning problems for the petitioners’ rural communities,” the lawsuit said. “The General Assembly has thus advanced a legal fiction – that is to say the fiction according to which imprisoned persons live elsewhere than where they really reside – which will have real consequences for the applicants and the communities in which they live. they live and represent. Applicants will always bear the full responsibility of caring for people in their prisons, without any political representation that they would otherwise be entitled to receive. “

The statutory criteria adopted by the General Assembly violate the Constitution, according to the lawsuit, and “the petitioners request that this Court affirm the supremacy of the Constitution of Virginia by issuing the requested writ of mandamus ordering defendants to follow only the redistribution criteria contained in the state constitution when drawing new districts based on the 2020 census data. “

The lawsuit has been filed in the Virginia Supreme Court and other petitioners include Tazewell County Supervisors Charlie Stacy and Maggie Asbury; Buchanan County Supervisors Trey Adkins and Craig Stiltner; Russell County Supervisor David Eaton; and Robert Majors, a former employee of the Keen Mountain Correctional Center in Buchanan County.

Mr. Brett Hall, a Gate City attorney representing the petitioners, said in a statement that after voters removed the redistribution authority from the legislature, “the Virginia General Assembly passed legislation undermining that authority. and this independence by imposing a set of its own criteria on the Commission. “

“The Commission must be allowed to work outside the grip of the legislature and must not be forced to draw constituencies based on the criteria of the legislature,” he said. “The legislature is now trying to force the Commission to use a new prison gerrymander and other discriminatory and unconstitutional criteria that will devastate Southwest Virginia. Specifically, they will try to force the Commission, currently without a member from Southwest Virginia, to remove large prison populations from their population counts. Meanwhile, the US Census Bureau counted this population in southwest Virginia, where they reside and use significant financial resources from area citizens and local governments.

– Contact Charles Boothe at cboothe@bdtonline.com


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