A federal district court panel in Virginia ordered the state legislature to redraw Virginia’s congressional districts, stating that the Third Congressional District was an unlawful racial gerrymander. The court concluded that “race was the legislature’s paramount concern” in drawing districts that packed black voters into the Third District and limited their ability to influence surrounding districts. The Legislature must redraw districts by April 1, 2015.
“Time and time again, we have seen politicians manipulate our elections to serve their own interests, at the expense of communities of color,” said Kathay Feng, National Redistricting Director at Common Cause. “The federal district court took a clear-eyed look at Virginia’s machinations and found the legislature violated the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.”
Unfortunately, the court is constrained in the remedy it can order. All it can do, even after finding a violation, is to ask the Legislature to draw a new set of maps. That is tantamount to letting the foxes back into the henhouse.
As is too often the case, legislators cannot help themselves from using the power to draw legislative lines to undermine the will of a community just to benefit themselves. In an ideal scenario, the court would truly hold the Legislature accountable for their constitutional violation by stripping legislators of the power to draw districts. An outside body, either the court itself or a special master, would be far more likely to draw districts based on criteria that prioritizes the rights of Virginians over partisan politics. Reform that creates a more independent process for drawing congressional districts would require an amendment to the Constitution of Virginia.
Issues: Voting and Elections