Based on the big elections in Virginia in recent years, the Old Dominion is turning reliably blue: victories by Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, two Senate wins by Democrats in two years, and Terry McAuliffe’s triumph in between. So how is it that Republicans have a stranglehold on the state’s congressional delegation, holding eight seats to Democrats’ three? That question is at the heart of a legal battle over whether Republicans have improperly leveraged their power over the redistricting process. The outcome could have far-reaching implications because the contours of congressional districts drawn by Republican-controlled legislatures are seen as a driving reason why Democrats may be locked in the House minority until at least after the next census in 2020. In Virginia, Democrats are hoping to redraw the lines to make some GOP districts more competitive after a panel of federal judges ruled recently that the Republican-led Legislature’s decision to pack African-American voters into the 3rd Congressional District, which is represented by Democratic Rep. Bobby Scott, was motivated purely by race — a violation of the 14th Amendment. Other battleground states such as North Carolina and Florida also have redistricting battles pending.
The North Carolina Supreme Court recently made the opposite decision in a case similar to Virginia’s, and plaintiffs have already said they will take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. And in Florida, a coalition of Democratic groups has appealed a court’s decision to keep the state’s congressional districts, which were tweaked only slightly by the Legislature last year after a court threw them out.
But the Virginia court ruling striking down the state’s map based on race, and the legislative wrangling that’s been triggered by it, has put the commonwealth in the spotlight because of the potential to boost Democrats in other states as well.
“The Virginia case is so important because it tells government decision makers how to evaluate the use of race in the redistricting process,” said Justin Levitt, a redistricting expert at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, who also worked as the Democratic National Committee’s National Voter Protection counsel in 2008.
Levitt added that the divided government in Virginia with Democrats controlling the governorship and Republicans controlling the Legislature opens up the real possibility for revisions to the map that might be more in line with a string of recent Democratic victories in close statewide races: The contests for Virginia’s 13 electoral votes in the presidential race have mirrored the national popular vote in the past two elections. The state’s Senate races in 2014 and 2012 were among the closest in the country. The 2013 governor’s race was decided by fewer than 3 points, and its attorney general, Democrat Mark Herring, was elected only after a protracted recount.
Full Article: Fighting red maps in purple states – Tarini Parti – POLITICO.