Home Virginia Politics Del. Mark Levine Responds to Prof. Alex Keena on Redistricting Amendment

Del. Mark Levine Responds to Prof. Alex Keena on Redistricting Amendment


See below for Del. Mark Levine’s response to VCU Professor Alex Keena’s post this morning on the Virginia redistricting amendment. It’s an interesting debate, that’s for sure!

It looks like Professor Keena is relatively new to Virginia. Welcome, Professor, to our Commonwealth!

But may I implore the good Professor next time to READ the amendment he supports and learn something about Virginia Government — like how we choose Supreme Court Justices here — prior to commenting on something this important? I mean the amendment is only a little over two pages long. Here’s the link: https://lis.virginia.gov/cg…

1) I think it’s kind of embarrassing the Professor didn’t notice that POLITICIANS ENTIRELY CHOOSE the citizens on the commission long before retired judges whittle the list down.

Because that point kind of destroys his entire first argument. He says that the commission is a “hybrid” commission of politicians and non-politicians. He even argues the commission “gives equal power to citizens! ? ?

But of course, that’s not true. This is a commission of 8 legislators and their best friends. Does anyone think Cory Lewandowski is “just a citizen” who will act independently of Donald Trump? I assure you any elected politician worth his/her salt, can find at least a small list of citizens that will support that politician’s goals. I mean, we all have our supporters.

In fact, the Professor goes on to say “opponents are right to raise concerns about politicians seated on the proposed commission. The gold standard of redistricting commissions are those that bar politicians altogether. Sometimes, a bipartisan commission with an equal number of politicians from each party can lead to different types of problems, such as ‘incumbent protection’ schemes that reduce competition in order to create ‘safe seats’.”

Good point! Nice to know our point — the point opponents of the amendment like me are making — is backed up by the good Professor’s 50-state research. And we thank him for it. Again, the critical thing here is there would be no “independent citizens” on the panel. Had Professor Keena read the bill and recognized that vital fact, he would have known his research actually shows the amendment is a BAD idea. He even cites New Jersey to prove the point! We agree. And thanks for the tip. We will now cite New Jersey in the future in our arguments against the amendment.

The Professor even cites the supermajority rule as if to say it promotes “negotiation and consensus, rather than stalemate,” without pointing out that those other states can’t say, “Do it our way, or the minority party will get to draw the districts themselves through their chosen appointees on the Supreme Court,” as Virginia’s amendment effectively does.

Which brings us to…the Virginia Supreme Court.

2) Again Professor. I know you haven’t been here in Virginia that long. But in fact, although the majority of our Supreme Court Justices were chosen entirely by Republicans with no Democratic input, EVERY Supreme Court Justice (not just most of them) was chosen or acquiesced in by the Republican House of Delegates. In sum, the majority are Republican partisan ideologues and a minority are bipartisan. But there are no Democratic partisan ideologues. Would you trust a 7-person body composed of 5 strong Trump ideologues and 2 jointly chosen by Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer? Not exactly fair and balanced…

Which brings me to another point. You bring up “Kansas, Minnesota, Nevada and New Mexico” without pointing out that they have a fundamentally different process of choosing their supreme court than Virginia. In these four states, the justices are elected or appointed by commissions chosen by the sitting Governor. That means the judges or their appointees are accountable to the people of those states statewide. Not so in Virginia (or South Carolina)! In these and only these two states, the State Supreme Court is accountable to NO ONE other than the legislators that chose them. And if they get to choose the very legislature that chooses them through partisan gerrymandering, the Supreme Court becomes accountable to no one other than….the Supreme Court!

None of the nine states you mention with backup plans have this consideration.

Surely, as a Professor of Political Science, you must find this factor quite important! I’m sorry, sir, but I have to downgrade your paper to a C for not even mentioning this salient fact.

And according to you, even these four state courts — courts, unlike Virginia’s, that are accountable to the people! — only reduced the level of bias a “small” magnitude. That’s not very persuasive. Particularly when you point out that Minnesota didn’t change the bias at all.

You go on to say that in Washington and Iowa, the state legislature is able to veto a commission plan, but “the legislatures rarely exercise this power, because members of both parties have come to view the process as transparent, fair and predictable.”


We’ve long argued that in 2021, we can use legislation to create a true non-partisan independent commission to use proportional representation criteria to design a truly independent plan without amending our constitution with a flawed amendment. But Republicans and amendment supporters argue we shouldn’t do that because “we can’t trust legislators as a backstop not to undo what the independent commissions set up by legislators do.

But this professor has just cited Washington and Iowa for the notion that once state legislators agree on a true independent commission, they rarely intervene even when they have a right to!

Again, thanks, Prof. That’s our plan. Now please support either my alternative legislation or one proffered by one of my colleagues in lieu of the very flawed amendment. As you persuasively show, the “legislative backstop” is NOT something to be feared.

3) You say criteria don’t work unless “bipartisan and nonpartisan redistricting commissions draw the maps.” But, as noted, that’s our proposal. Not theirs. That’s the suggestion of the opponents of the amendment, while the amendment’s proposals give only Republican appointees the sole power to draw the maps.

Again, you’re making our argument! We have long said that a criteria bill will not bind the very partisan Republican State Supreme Court. You seem to agree that they won’t listen to us if they don’t have to. You’re right about that. It’s just your conclusion that is illogical.

4) Finally, you support transparency. So do I. I’m the Chair of the Virginia Transparency Caucus. My work is the reason why all of Virginia’s committees (and soon subcommittees!) are streamed and archived for the public. I fully support transparency.

Unfortunately, courts provide no transparency, and least so, when they are doing “legislative” work. (This would be first time in 400 years, Virginia gave legislative power to the Supreme Court, which heretofore, has only had judicial power.) Whether courts hire a special master or not, they just rule. They don’t have to give reasons.

The amendment — which, again, I strongly advocate you READ in full prior to opining on it further — says the Supreme Court can simply “establish” the districts. That’s hardly transparent. When you “establish” something (like a business), you just do it. You don’t have to explain why. That’s very different from a legal decision which requires logical reasoning.

Conversely, the process we endorse — a purely independent bipartisan and non-partisan commission — would require full transparency. In fact, it’s exactly the kind of process you praise in this piece


In sum, Professor — and I do hope you read this — I appreciate your research, but your failure to read the DETAILS of the bill makes your analysis flawed. If you had read the bill, you would have seen that the arguments you make actually augur for our position: that a legislative package for an independent commission for 2021 and a constitutional amendment for 2031 are much better solutions to restrict future Virginia gerrymanders.

P.S. While I suppose it’s possible the Professor did read the bill and didn’t mention the salient factors that would undercut his entire analysis, I did not want to suggest a lack of integrity. I always presume integrity. That’s why I can only conclude he didn’t read the bill.

Two pages is not that long.

People who support the amendment need to address our criticisms on what the amendment actually does. Not on what they are told it does or what they hope it would do. What Democrat could possibly support a partisan Republican Supreme Court — whose very jobs depend on how partisan they can gerrymander the Commonwealth — “establish”ing districts with no guardrails whatsoever against gerrymandering?


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