by Paul Goldman
“Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple, D-Arlington, the chairwoman of the Senate Democratic Caucus, said 20 percent of Virginia’s population is African-American, so blacks merit an additional representative in Congress” reported the Richmond Times Dispatch this morning. This comment puts Virginia Democrats and the Obama Justice Department in a no-win position with the General Assembly due back later this week to begin addressing the issue of congressional districting.
Sen. Whipple needs to immediately disavow this comment – the reporter didn’t use a direct quotation – or say it is her personal view, that she isn’t speaking for the Senate Democratic majority in any way, shape, or form. therwise, if what she said this morning is perceived as the motivation for the Senate Redistricting Plan, then Virginia Democrats might as well throw in the towel right now to avoid forcing the Obama Administration and/or the federal courts to give us a slam down. Here’s why Sen. Whipple has put Democrats in a lose-lose situation for 2012 if not 2011.
The Senate Democratic plan draws 4 likely Democratic districts, and 7 Republican. The House of Delegate’s redistricting plan is 8 for the GOP, 3 for the Democrats. This is hardly surprising.
The Republicans claim the Democratic plan violates the Voting Rights Act by: a) substantially reducing the African-American population of Congressman Bobby Scott’s district in order to b) add a substantial number of African-Americans to Congressman Randy Forbes’ district in order to c) create a district to do what Senator Whipple says must be done. Democrats disagree, saying their 7-4 plan is legal, that it meets the VRA requirements that all voters have a fair chance to elect someone who will represent their interests in Congress.
Since a compromise between the House of Delegates and State Senate seems unlikely, the choice of plans would be left to the federal courts (or they could draw their own). The Senate Democrats had the better legal argument until Senator Whipple spoke. Now, the Democrats would be at a big disadvantage in the court room.
First off, Whipple’s comments put the Obama Administration in a no-win position. As it is, the President faces a tough re-election here in Virginia next year. The last thing he needs is to have his Justice Department forced to deal with her comment. But the DOJ can’t hide. If DOJ supports the Democrats, this can now be easily “spun” as agreeing with Whipple. Unfair? Sure. But welcome to life.
Secondly, the lower federal courts don’t want to get knee deep in this either, especially since such a fight risks a big Supreme Court smackdown. Regardless of what the lawyers say in court, the reality is that Whipple’s comment would hang over any legal proceeding.
Bottom line: The Obama DOJ and the federal courts would have to go out of their way to prove they weren’t in any way, shape or form, agreeing with Sen. Whipple’s view. Words alone would not suffice however.
A protracted legal battle along these lines will not only hurt the President and Tim Kaine, but also Virginia Democrats in the 2011 elections.
Bottom line: The Whipple view needs to be separated from the 7-4 Democratic plan before Republicans can use it against Democrats both in a court of law and in the court of public opinion. Sen. Whipple needs to clean it up fast, learning from George Allen in 2006. Otherwise, the VA Senate might find itself forced to agree with the GOP 8-3 plan before the 2011 elections, when a 7-4 plan could have become law.