Federal judge throws out Virginia congressional map

Democrat vs. Republican on whiteVirginia has until April 1, 2015, to prepare a new congressional district map after a federal judge ruled that the redistricting plan adopted by the General Assembly in 2011 is in violation of the 14th Amendment.

The ruling was focused on how the district lines packed African-American voters into the Third Congressional District, represented by long-time Democratic Congressman Bobby Scott, diminishing their influence on voting in neighboring districts.

Scott, who originally supported the redistrictin plan, said in a statement released today said he hopes and expects to see the General Assembly “more equitably and appropriately balance the influence of all Virginia’s voters, as mandated by this decision, when they redraw the third congressional district and adjacent congressional districts next session.”

The ruling is expected to be appealed, and appears likely to be headed to the Supreme Court. In the meantime, the district lines currently in place will be in effect for the 2014 election cycle.

Governor Terry McAuliffe said in a statement that the ruling “demonstrates the need to get partisan politics out of how Virginia draws its legislative boundaries.”

“The court’s order to redraw our congressional map is an opportunity to emerge with a map that reflects the best interests of Virginia families, not the political interests of the people drawing the lines,” McAuliffe said. “I hope my friends in the General Assembly will join me in taking this opportunity to draw districts that are more compact, contiguous, and reflective of the shared interests that unite many of our communities.”

Democratic Party of Virginia executive director Robert Dempsey was using similar language in demanding “a fair, nonpartisan map for Virginia’s congressional districts.”

“The fundamental American right to fair and equal representation should never be diluted by political meddling,” Dempsey said. “General Assembly Republicans should hear the Court’s message loud and clear and produce a nonpartisan Congressional map with Virginia citizens in mind, not politics. Speaker Howell and Leader Norment need to do what’s best for the Commonwealth and produce more compact districts that ensure all Virginians have the representation they deserve.”

Libertarian U.S. Senate candidate Robert Sarvis pointed to the collusion between Democrats and Republicans in the redistricting plan, which allowed Republicans to pack black voters into the Third to benefit Republicans in adjoining districts with the acquiescence of the Democratic incumbent in the district.

“Even absent a racial motivation, gerrymandering for partisan advantage and incumbent protection is also wrong. It is specifically designed to perpetuate power and deprive voters of competitive elections and fair representation. It’s self-dealing in the worst possible way, literally rigging the system,” Sarvis said.

Sarvis emphasized that both Democrats and Republicans are guilty of gerrymandering for partisan advantage, pointing to the experience of 2011, and called for a redistricting process that is entirely nonpartisan and blind to partisan advantage, incumbent protection, race, and other factors.

“Let’s pick a neutral, fair computer algorithm that runs automatically and avoids the pitfalls of political self-dealing,” said Sarvis, who issued a challenge for all candidates seeking election in 2014: “I support neutral, nonpartisan redistricting, and I call on every candidate to declare whether or not they support it as well.”

– Column by Chris Graham

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