The slit decision last week upholding the constitutionality of certain Virginia House of Delegates districts is hardly confirmation of good government in action. The federal court panel’s decision does, however, stand in contrast to a ruling more than a year ago that declared Virginia’s 3rd Congressional District boundaries illegal. That determination, ultimately upheld after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on a similar case from Alabama, has led the judicial branch to assume responsibility for crafting congressional boundaries that pass constitutional muster. A court-appointed special master has spent weeks considering alternate plans and is scheduled to submit his remedy to the 3rd District’s lines – and others’ – by Friday.
It’s a needlessly expensive arrangement, one that highlights the Virginia legislature’s inability to prioritize the public’s interest over partisan gain. It also underscores the need for lawmakers to cede the power for redistricting to a bipartisan commission.
Such an effort has failed repeatedly in recent years, largely because House Republicans have so refined the process for crafting districts that they are unwilling to give up control.
The 3rd District, a gerrymandered mess that snakes along the James River from Richmond to Norfolk, packed black voters specifically to establish a comfortable seat for a Democrat while diluting black voters’ influence in neighboring districts. Those, of course, are held by Republicans.