The Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates has intervened in a federal lawsuit that alleges his chamber’s legislative districts were gerrymandered to dilute African-American influence. Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) and the House of Delegates will now be defending in court the map they drew in 2011 against a lawsuit filed by a group of Virginia citizens against the state Board of Elections and Department of Elections. Judge David J. Novak granted Howell’s motion Tuesday. “The speaker has an obligation to ensure that the House is represented in court,” spokesman Matt Moran said. Any legal fees will be paid out of the House budget at Howell’s discretion.
The plaintiffs claim that districts already reliably electing the preferred representatives of African-American constituents were “illegally packed” with more black residents to diminish their voting power.
Delegates representing large numbers of black voters were told by Republicans that they could draw their own districts, according to the complaint, as long as the voting-age population was 55 percent African-American or more.
Howell’s attorneys deny all these allegations, saying the districts are “lawful” and “drawn in accordance with all requirements of the United States Constitution.”