A panel of judges in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia today rejected arguments that the Republican-controlled legislature unlawfully attempted to pack African-American voters into 12 specific House of Delegate districts, thus diluting their impact in the other 88 districts.
The original complaint was part of a nationwide litigation effort by Democrats to strip GOP legislatures of their redistricting authority.
In this case, the plaintiffs said Republicans considered voters’ race as the primary consideration in drawing the contested lines, but the preponderance of the evidence presented to the court suggested otherwise, and that instead the lines were drawn with a number of other factors in mind. This is in contrast to a ruling from the same court, currently pending appeal at the U.S. Supreme Court, holding that the Third Congressional District was improperly drawn in 2012 for the same reasons alleged by plaintiffs in the House of Delegates case.
Today’s ruling represents a significant victory for GOP members of the House of Delegates. Ultimately, the aim of the Democrats’ lawsuit (litigated by Hillary Clinton’s top lawyer) was to force a redrawing of House lines in time for the court to order a special election using the new districts to be held concurrently with the 2016 presidential general election. That’s what happened in the early 1980s, when House of Delegates members faced general election campaigns in three consecutive years–1981, 1982, and 1983–under similar circumstances involving redistricting litigation. Conventional wisdom holds that in higher-turnout presidential years Democrats would gain an advantage over the Republican majority who are elected in Virginia’s lower turnout odd year elections.
So, we dodged that bullet. Congratulations to the House GOP caucus and their legal team for a great victory. Now we just have to worry about the Congressional lines.
Stay tuned for more in-depth analysis from The Bull Elephant as our experts analyze and unpack Judge Payne’s hefty 176-page opinion.