Court Orders Virginia to Redraw Gerrymandered Districts

A panel of federal judges has once again invalidated the redistricting maps approved by the Virginia legislature after the 2010 census and ordered them to redraw the districts by Sept. 1st because they gerrymandered the districts to put most of the black voters into a single district.

A panel of federal judges issued a ruling Friday that Virginia lawmakers illegally concentrated African American voters into one congressional district to reduce their influence elsewhere, bringing the state a step closer to being forced to redraw its election map.

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia affirmed its earlier decision and ordered the Virginia House of Delegates to redraw the state’s 11-district congressional map by Sept. 1.

The costly and time-consuming process would force the General Assembly back to Richmond for a special session this summer.

But an appeal from the state’s congressional Republicans could derail that timetable.

Attorney Michael A. Carvin, who represented Virginia’s Republican congressional delegation in their appeal of the court’s decision, said another appeal is likely.

“There’s a good chance that we will,” he said. “It was wrong for the same reason the original decision was wrong.”

Of course they’ll appeal it. If they can just get a final ruling delayed, they can hold on to their artificial advantage for another election cycle. This is why the drawing and redrawing of congressional districts should never, ever be done by elected officials.

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  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    I thought you Liberals were for fair?

    If the tyrannical courts, over the Will of the voters’ chosen representatives, force non-so called “gerrymandered” districts on us, so-called “legitimate” so-called “votes” from Urban Americans (*wink wink*) will dilute our Republican votes with their Democrat ones. And how fair is that?

  • A Masked Avenger

    I’ve thought many times before that we need an anti-gerrymandering law, but it’s tricky to invent one that can’t be easily gamed. The closest I generally come is a requirement like, “congressional districts shall be convex regions,” in the mathematical sense.

    It is of course possible to cover a state in convex regions carefully selected to group all the black people into the smallest number of districts, but it’s hard to make a significant difference that way if you’re ruling the state into, effectively, non-overlapping squares (or hexagons, or any other shape that can tesselate the plane…).

    It’s impossible to make a reasonable law that prevents the district containing Harlem, say, from containing mostly black people, and the one containing Prospect Heights from containing mostly white people. Those are effects not of gerrymandering, but of other social forces that amount to segregation. Also a problem, but a separate problem.

    (Although if you did pass effective anti-gerrymandering laws, you might see a bunch of very subtle initiatives designed to increase segregation.)

  • eric

    @2: there may be legitimate reasons to create odd-shaped districts, so its not so simple as convex. So for example, people living along a river or large highway may naturally have shared political interests and thus warrant a common representative. The book Bushmanders and Bullwinkles, while old now, does a good job of covering not just the absurdities but also the legitimate reasons why odd-shaped districts may be valuable.

    But I agree with Ed, there is in principle no reason why you couldn’t have some group other than legislators do the job.

  • Synfandel

    @2 A Masked Avenger wrote:

    I’ve thought many times before that we need an anti-gerrymandering law, but it’s tricky to invent one that can’t be easily gamed.

    It’s really not hard at all. Just professionalize the process. In Canada, for example, ten independent electoral boundaries commissions—one in each province—determine federal electoral boundaries. Each electoral boundaries commission is composed of three members. It is chaired by a judge appointed by the chief justice of the province and has two other members appointed by the Speaker of the House of Commons. Historically, many commission members have been university professors or civil servants who have worked for legislative assemblies. No sitting member of the Senate or of a federal or provincial legislature can be appointed to these commissions.

  • http://cycleninja.blogspot.com cycleninja

    This is why the drawing and redrawing of congressional districts should never, ever be done by elected officials.

    Not that I disagree, but what would be the best course of action to draw congressional districts? I’m not familiar with the process nor its history. Thoughts?

  • bryanfeir

    As Synfandel noted, Canada does have an arms-length body to define the electoral district boundaries; it gets convened after each census.

    Granted, this doesn’t entirely prevent issues; generally the issues are brought up early in the consultation process and go into the decision-making. However, there was the case of Prince Edward Island in 2006 where the government threw out the commission’s recommendations and applied its own; the new one guaranteed that members of the currently ruling party wouldn’t be competing against each other in the new district maps. There was another attempt at this in 2010 in Alberta. Media tends to be pretty negative about gerrymandering up here; it’s generally treated as one of those things that’s ‘just not done’, so someone trying it tends not to have much public support.

  • Trebuchet

    I’ve long thought districting would lend itself pretty well to automation. Aim for the smallest ratio of perimeter to area, while respecting existing political boundaries as required and paying some attention to geography.

  • grumpyoldfart

    cycleninja #5

    South Australia has a pretty good system at the moment.

    http://www.ecsa.sa.gov.au/electoral-boundaries/electoral-districts-boundaries-commission

    At this site there is a link to FAQs at the bottom of the page.

  • EnlightenmentLiberal

    @A Masked Avenger

    I’ve thought many times before that we need an anti-gerrymandering law, but it’s tricky to invent one that can’t be easily gamed. The closest I generally come is a requirement like, “congressional districts shall be convex regions,” in the mathematical sense.

    IMHO, the solution is simple – at least for the US congress: eliminate districts entirely. Move to a party roll system, where people vote for the party, and the party gets a number of representatives in the congress proportional to the number of votes for the party. I’m proposing a system very similar to the Israeli Knesset.

  • Rick Pikul

    @EnlightenmentLiberal:

    You mean the system that tends to give an extremist 10-15% of the population almost everything they want?

  • birgerjohansson

    @ 9, 10;

    Knesset, like the old German Reichstag lacks a treshold for how small parties may be.

    The Germans learned, and now has a 5% threshold to keep miniature parties out. Most European parliaments have adopted the same solution, although the percentage of the treshold varies. Sweden has 4%. Turkey has 10%.

  • Matrim

    Shitcan congressional districts entirely. Have all voters vote on all candidates. Do like they do when voting for board members: present a list of all candidates and say “pick 7” or whatever the number happens to be. Yeah, there will be problems, especially in big states like California where they have 53 House seats, and it would throw the primaries into absolute chaos. However, with a little tinkering, I think it would be better overall. Suddenly every politician would be vulnerable, and they would have to operate (or at least appear to operate) in the best interests of the whole population and not their little specially carved out portion.

  • Matrim

    I’d prefer a parliamentary system, but I think that’s even less likely in the US than my other suggestion. The constitutional pokery-jiggery that would need to happen makes it essentially impossible.

  • eric

    Shitcan congressional districts entirely. Have all voters vote on all candidates.

    We have 474-475 national elections every second year (435 + 6 nonvoting members + 33-34 senators). Are you seriously proposing each American review between approximately 950-1425 candidates every two years, rather than the 2-4 they have to now? Did it occur to you that while we might have a problem with people making election decisions with low information now, your system makes this problem literally a thousand times worse?

  • eric

    would have to operate (or at least appear to operate) in the best interests of the whole population and not their little specially carved out portion.

    Nope, the opposite would happen in fact. Right now a congresscritter has to win the majority vote of about 750,000 relatively disparate people; everyone in their district regardless of race, creed, color, what have you. Gerrymandeing makes this somewhat easy but keep in mind even the most gerrymandered districts are typically pretty “purple,” with no more than 60% of on party in it. Under your system, they don’t have to do that. Thy can pick some special interest, cater to it, and as long as there are 375,000+1 votes for that special interest somewhere in the US, they can get into Congress. The David Dukes have a much easier time under your system, because instead of being required to find a district full of radical white supremacists (which is hard), they can just appeal to all the white supremacists all over the US and pick up enough votes to get in (which is must easier).

  • EnlightenmentLiberal

    @Rick

    You mean the system that tends to give an extremist 10-15% of the population almost everything they want?

    You mean just like the United States system where the Republican party is hostage to the 10-20% percent of the population which are nutters?

  • Matrim

    Are you seriously proposing each American review between approximately 950-1425 candidates every two years, rather than the 2-4 they have to now?

    No, I’m not. I said get rid of DISTRICTS, not states. Thus California would review 55 (53 reps plus 2 senators) congressional candidates at worst. And, if you’ll note, I acknowledged that this would be rough on the bigger states, but I still think it’s better.