Virginia’s Congressional Map—Which Dilutes Influence of Black Voters—is Ruled Unconstitutional

Thursday, October 09, 2014
Virginia's Third Congressional District (graphic: Wikipedia)

A federal court on Tuesday threw out Virginia’s congressional boundaries, saying gerrymandering by Republicans had diluted the voting power of African-Americans.


The case focused on Virginia’s Third Congressional District, which created the state’s only black-majority seat, currently held by Democrat Bobby Scott. Plaintiffs argued state GOP lawmakers in 2011 had intentionally lumped as many black voters as they could into the district to limit their influence in other congressional races.


A three-judge panel ruled 2-1 that the Third’s boundaries were unconstitutional, and ordered the legislature to redraw all of the state’s seats for the U.S. House in order to shift some black voters into other districts. “[W]e find that Plaintiffs have shown race predominated,” the opinion says. “We find that the Third Congressional District cannot survive review under the exacting standard of strict scrutiny.” The new maps are due by next April, meaning the existing boundaries will remain in place for next month’s election.


The move would have the effect of making at least one more congressional race competitive for Democrats. Currently, Republicans control eight of the state’s 11 congressional seats, even though there about even numbers of Democrat and Republican voters and the Democrats won all statewide offices in the most recent election.


Marc Elias, a lawyer involved in the lawsuit on behalf of two voters from the district, told The Washington Post: “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.”


The newspaper also reported that the state’s attorney general, Democrat Mark Herring, has not decided whether to appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, which is scheduled this term to hear a similar voting rights case from Alabama.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Court Declares Virginia’s Congressional Map Unconstitutional (by Rachel Weiner, Matt Zapotosky and Laura Vozzella, Washington Post)

Court Strikes Down Va. Congressional Map (by Tarini Parti, Politico)

Dawn Curry Page, et al, v. Virginia State Board of Elections, et al (U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia)

Virginia Republicans Shove through Redistricting Bill by 1 Vote while Democrat Attends Obama Inauguration (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Federal Judges Reject Texas Redistricting as Anti-Minority (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)


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