Court Tosses Virginia Congressional Map (Updated)
Updated 5:28 p.m.| A federal court has ruled Virginia’s congressional map violated the 14th Amendment and instructed the legislature to redraw the state’s congressional boundaries by April 1, 2015.
On Tuesday, three federal judges sided with the plaintiffs, who argued the Republican-led legislature drew Virginia’s 3rd District to pack blacks into the district, thus diminishing their influence in neighboring districts and violating the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.
The current map will still be in effect for the 2014 elections. The court instructed the legislature to redraw the entire congressional map by April, and there will likely be more legal action before then. “This is going to get appealed to the Supreme Court,” a redistricting expert involved with the case told CQ Roll Call in a phone interview.
The expert pointed out the issues in the Virginia case are similar to a redistricting case in Alabama, which the Supreme Court agreed to consider .
A redraw has the potential to drastically change the state’s partisan makeup in the congressional delegation. Virginia is a battleground statewide, but Republicans currently hold eight of the state’s 11 House seats.
In the Virginia case, the defendants argued race was not the primary factor behind the 3rd District’s configuration, and instead the district was drawn to protect the incumbent, Democratic Rep. Robert C. Scott. Although, the legislators also acknowledged they attempted to draw lines to comply with the Voting Rights Act and ensure African-Americans could elect a candidate of choice.
But as experts for the plaintiffs and defendants acknowledged, the district required a lower black voting age population to elect a candidate of choice than was ultimately drawn.
The court eventually sided with the plaintiffs, who argued race was the primary motivator behind the district lines.
Following the ruling, Scott issued a statement clarifying that he was not directly involved in the lawsuit.
“However, during the last round of redistricting in 2011, I was a strong proponent of the redistricting plan sponsored by State Sen. Mamie Locke, which made all congressional districts in the Commonwealth more compact and contiguous,” said Scott. “I hope and expect the General Assembly will more equitably and appropriately balance the influence of all Virginia’s voters, as mandated by this decision, when they redraw the third congressional district and adjacent congressional districts next session.”
Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe also issued a statement after the ruling.
“Today’s ruling demonstrates the need to get partisan politics out of how Virginia draws its legislative boundaries,” McAuliffe said. “I hope my friends in the General Assembly will join me in taking this opportunity to draw districts that are more compact, contiguous, and reflective of the shared interests that unite many of our communities.”
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