A three-judge federal panel in Richmond might choose a fix for the constitutionally flawed 3rd Congressional District, but condition its imposition of a new map on a later ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court. U.S. District Judge Robert E. Payne suggested that course of action Monday as he, U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady and Judge Albert Diaz of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals presided over a hearing in Virginia’s congressional redistricting case. “Would there be any difficulty in drafting a plan, but making it contingent on affirmation” by the U.S. Supreme Court, Payne asked during the hearing.
That might enable the Supreme Court to consider the panel’s initial finding, throwing out the current map, and the proposed remedy at the same time, Payne said.
The three-judge panel has twice ruled that in 2012 Virginia legislators packed too many additional blacks into the majority-black 3rd Congressional District, represented by Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, D-3rd, diluting their influence in adjacent districts.
An expert hired by the three-judge panel, called a “special master” in court papers, has recommended two alternatives to the judges. Both would reduce the black voting age population in the 3rd District, but increase it in the 4th, represented by Republican J. Randy Forbes, thereby giving blacks the opportunity to elect candidates of their choice in two congressional districts, not just one.
The expert’s recommendations might not matter, because the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to take up an appeal by Republicans in Virginia’s congressional delegation.