Last week, as VAPLAN reported, the Virginia Redistricting Commission “finance subcommittee unanimously votes to put forward the recommendation of the Republican-leaning Schaerr and Jaffe law firm and to enter into competitive negotiations with both the Democratic-leaning firms.” The law firms will help the commission – formed after Virginia voters approved the redistricting constitutional amendment in November 2020 – redraw Virginia’s legislative and Congressional districts this fall, following receipt of U.S. Census numbers, which have been delayed.
Anyway, I was curious about who Schaerr and Jaffe were, whether they’re relatively “moderate” or more extreme or what. Here’s what I found.
- One partner in the firm (Gene Schaerr) clerked for hard-right U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and for the infamous Ken Starr, while the other (Erik Jaffe) clerked for hard-right U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. What could possibly go wrong here, right?
- Gene Schaerr recently served as “the lead lawyer for the [Gloucester County] school board” against Gavin Grimm, “who was a high school student in 2014 when the Gloucester County School Board barred him from continuing to use the boys’ bathrooms.” The Supreme Court on June 28 turned away the School Board’s appeal of decisions by other courts “that transgender students have the right to use the bathroom of their choice.”
- As the Wall Street Journal reports, Schaerr is also representing Parler, a far-right social media platform which “has come under scrutiny following the deadly Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol by a mob of supporters of then-President Donald Trump,” and which “served as a hub for people alleged to have organized, participated in or celebrated the attack, which occurred as lawmakers were meeting to certify President Biden’s electoral victory.”
- Back in 2014, Schaerr wrote an exit memo in which he explained why he “left his firm so he could fight gay marriage full-time in Utah” and fulfill what he called his “religious and family duty” to defend “traditional marriage.” Also see this WaPo article, which reads: “A group of 100 conservative lawyers and academics recently filed a Supreme Court brief arguing that gay marriage will cause 900,000 abortions over the next 30 years. Leading the charge is lawyer and former Antonin Scalia law clerk Gene Schaerr, who summarized the argument in a recent piece for the Heritage Foundation.”
- As for partner Erik Jaffe, he recently represented the “Firearms Policy Coalition” in a case which “overturned California’s decades-old assault weapons ban.” In a ruling that received a lot of criticism, the judge in the case (Roger Benitez) compared an AR-15 to a Swiss Army knife, writing, “Like the Swiss Army Knife, the popular AR-15 rifle is a perfect combination of home defense weapon and homeland defense equipment.” In response, California Gov. Gavin Newsom called Judge Benitez a “wholly-owned subsidiary of the gun lobby and the National Rifle Association.” In stark contrast, according to Erik Jaffe, “Judge Benitez held the government to its burdens of proof, recognized the high hurdles the government must overcome when burdening the right to keep and bear arms, and gave the Second Amendment the weight and respect it deserves.”
- Also of note regarding Erik Jaffe, check out his page on the Federalist Society website, and note that the Federalist Society “played a key role in suggesting judicial nominees to President Donald Trump; it vetted President Trump’s list of potential U.S. Supreme Court nominees and, as of March 2020, 43 out of 51 of President Trump’s appellate court nominees were current or former members of the society.” According to the Federalist Society’s page on Erik Jaffe, he has been involved in “First Amendment challenges to campaign finance reform, Commerce Clause challenges to Health Care Reform and other federal legislation, Equal Protection Clause challenges to affirmative action in education, First Amendment challenges to school vouchers, Fifth Amendment challenges to takings of property, Second Amendment challenges to restrictions on gun ownership.” In short, Jaffe is hard right all the way…
So anyway, this is the highly partisan, VERY conservative, Federalist Society-connected Republican law firm which the Virginia Redistricting Commission chose as one of the firms which will help it draw new U.S. House and General Assembly lines in Virginia this fall. That, after the Commission “rejected an attempt…to at least try to hire nonpartisan lawyers, choosing instead to seek two sets of partisan attorneys to advise the new body as it redraws the state’s political districts later this year.” Again, does anyone think this is going to end well? And, on a related note, can anyone explain why any Democratic State Senator or Delegate would have voted for this highly partisan, politician-dominated system, and why any voters would have voted to approve it?!? It certainly is NOT “nonpartisan redistricting” or whatever advocates were (falsely) claiming it would be. Ugh…