First it was Florida, now a federal court has ruled that the districts drawn by the Virginia legislature after the 2010 census are unconstitutional because they are drawn to limit the representation of black people to a single district.
A panel of federal judges on Tuesday declared Virginia’s congressional maps unconstitutional because they concentrate African American voters into a single district at the expense of their influence elsewhere.
The decision, handed down in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, orders the Virginia General Assembly to draw up new congressional maps by April — potentially launching a frenzied and highly political battle for survival within Virginia’s congressional delegation.
The order delivered another victory for Democratic plaintiffs hoping to break up black-majority districts, which they say have been drawn by Republicans who have used the Voting Rights Act to dilute the influence of minority voters.A similar case in Alabama in which Republicans prevailed will be heard by the Supreme Court this term.
“We’re obviously thrilled with the results,” said Marc Elias, a lawyer on the Virginia case who represented two voters from the district where the unconstitutional redistricting took place. “The Republicans engaged in impermissible racial gerrymandering in a cynical effort to gain seats. . . . We look forward to the state doing a new redistricting to comply with the court’s orders.”
Elias said that if Virginia does not appeal, its leaders will have to go “back to the drawing board” to draw their electoral boundaries.
Judge Robert E. Payne wrote in a dissenting option that incumbent protection — rather than race — motivated the redistricting, a practice which is legal.
Unfortunately, the Supreme Court may very well rule the wrong way in the Alabama case and cancel this ruling, as well as the Florida ruling. What needs to be done is that redistricting should be removed from political control entirely. Districts should be drawn up by a committee of experts who are not beholden to elected officials or political parties.