Several Virginia voters have filed a federal lawsuit accusing the General Assembly of “racial gerrymandering” by packing black voters into 12 of the state’s House of Delegates districts. According to the complaint, filed with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in Richmond last week, the General Assembly in 2011 adopted a redistricting plan purposefully drawn to have “an African-American voting age population that met or exceeded a pre-determined 55 percent threshold,” diminishing the influence of black voters in the surrounding districts as a result. After each decennial census, Virginia redraws its congressional and legislative districts, taking into consideration population shifts in the previous 10 years. The procedure opens a door for state legislators to gerrymander the districts to their partisan advantage.
Because Republicans dominate the House of Delegates, they drew districts that preserved and expanded their majority. Republicans currently hold 68 of 100 seats.
The alleged gerrymandering resulted in “bizarrely shaped and highly non-compact” districts, according to the lawsuit. Drawn “with race as their predominant purpose, without compelling justification or narrow tailoring, the challenged districts cannot pass constitutional muster,” the complaint says.
The plaintiffs are asking the court to declare the challenged districts invalid and to block the state from holding elections because of the disputed districts. The suit asks that the defendants — members of the state board of elections — be prohibited from “calling, holding, supervising, or taking any action” in respect to elections based on the current district boundaries. Virginia lawmakers have repeatedly denied accusations of racial gerrymandering, using federal preclearance laws as a defense.