In a 2-1 vote, today, a three judge panel from the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia struck down Virginia’s congressional districts as unconstitutional by virtue of the third congressional district being a racial gerrymander. Prepare to be redistricted in 2015.[read_more]
It is all about race
Race was the predominant factor in determining the Congressional redistricting plan. Because race is the dominant factor, strict scrutiny applies. Strict scrutiny requires that the congressional redistricting plan be 1. narrowly tailored to meet a 2. compelling state interest. Re #2: Compliance with the Voting Rights Act was a compelling state interest. But, the legislature did not narrowly tailor (#1) their law.
How could this be?
The law was designed to avoid “retrogression” or a weakening of minority voting power. The problem from the Court’s perspective was that the General Assembly arbitrarily chose to impose a minimum 55% black voting age population for the 3rd Congressional District. In short, the General Assembly needed more justification (such as a series of studies) to show that the 3rd district boundaries were the least restrictive means to avoid retrogression.
So the Congressional redistricting plan is racist, how does the Court plan to fix it?
As I noted in 2011, the Court has broad discretion over the remedy to impose when striking down a redistricting plan. “Equitable considerations preclude remediation prior to Virginia’s November 2014 elections.” The current elections in less than a month will go forward as planned. This is in part because the parties in the case waited 19 months before suing. Instead the General Assembly is mandated to come up with a new plan and pass it by April 1, 2015. All of Virginia’s congressional districts are subject to change.
Whether the 3rd District is racist or not, it sure is not compact and contiguous:
Perhaps Virginia’s politicians shouldn’t create the redistricting plan in a smoke filled back room next time.
For readers seeking extensive background material on redistricting in Virginia see here.
UPDATE: Here are a few links from my coverage in 2011 in response to some comments and questions raised.
There were two competing plans that were made known to exist back in 2011. One was from the ACLU of Virginia. The other was promoted by the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus.