A federal court ruled Friday that Virginia legislators will have to redraw the state’s congressional lines after misinterpreting Voting Rights Act requirements, but an attorney for the defendants said it’s likely that they’ll appeal to the Supreme Court. The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia ruled for the second time that legislators unnecessarily “packed” African-American voters into certain congressional districts, ostensibly to follow a requirement that minority voters maintain their control of certain districts—but also limiting their ability to affect other districts’ elections. The three-judge panel ruled 2-1 that the Republican-controlled legislature had packed an excessive number of minorities into a single district, represented by Democratic Rep. Bobby Scott, when it drew the congressional map in 2012.
Now, the legislature will have until Sept. 1 to draw new congressional lines, which would likely undo some of the Republicans’ advantage in the state’s congressional delegation. Eight Virginia representatives are Republicans and three are Democrats. When Virginia last drew lines, Republicans controlled the entire legislative process, but Democrats would have a seat at the table this time in the form of Gov. Terry McAuliffe.
Scott’s district is 56 percent African-American, and he has said African-American voters could still reelect him easily without forming such a substantial majority of the district. A healthy medium, he said, would allow minorities to elect their preferred candidates without being crammed into a single district to the point of racial gerrymandering.