Holding session on MLK Day is a distasteful thing for any Southern legislature to do — it’s about not treating the day as a holiday in order to disrespect Dr. King’s memory not to mention what he stood for. Adjourning at the end of the day to celebrate General Thomas J. ‘Stonewall’ Jackson is just putting the boot in.
But what the Virginia legislature did today is truly toxic.
The VA Senate is split 50-50. Today, one Democrat was absent. Sen. Henry Marsh, a 79-year-old civil rights veteran, was in Washington DC for the Obama inaugural. That’s when the Republicans pounced: they introduced and rammed through without notice a redistricting bill that would take the 20-20 Senate and make it, by some calculations 27-13 by packing as many Democrats as possible into a minority of the districts.
Fortunately, if some of the online commentators at Blue Virginia are to be believed, there’s a good chance the move violates the Virginia Constitution, Art. II, sec. 6, which reads in relevant part (as recently amended):
Members of the House of Representatives of the United States and members of the Senate and of the House of Delegates of the General Assembly shall be elected from electoral districts established by the General Assembly. Every electoral district shall be composed of contiguous and compact territory and shall be so constituted as to give, as nearly as is practicable, representation in proportion to the population of the district. The General Assembly shall reapportion the Commonwealth into electoral districts in accordance with this section in the year 2011 and every ten years thereafter.
Any such decennial reapportionment law shall take effect immediately and not be subject to the limitations contained in Article IV, Section 13, of this Constitution.
I am not in any way informed about the Virginia Constitution, but this seems consistent with the view that reapportionment must be decennial, and that mid-decade reapportionment is unconstitutional. I’d be interested in hearing other views.
(Additional context here.)
UPDATE: JST points me to this eye-witness account of the Virginia Senate in action.