As of 2014, African Americans made up just under 20% of Virginia’s total population. Yet, of the eleven congressmen and women elected from Virginia, incumbent Bobby Scott is currently the only African American representing the state, and only the second to be elected in the state’s entire history. This means that, while amounting to almost 20% of the total population, only 9% of Virginia’s seats in the House of Representatives are held by African Americans. Statistics improve slightly when looking at Virginia’s General Assembly. Of the one hundred members of the House of Delegates, thirteen representatives are African American (13%); of Virginia’s forty senators, five are African American (12.5%). Ultimately, a total 12.8% of the Virginia’s legislators are African American, falling about 6% below the total African American population in the state.
In recent years, concerns about the under-representation of minority groups have been reflected through a plethora of litigation in Virginian state and federal courts, concerning the drawing of congressional and general assembly districts. Most recently, the Supreme Court of Virginia was asked to consider whether redistricting plans drawn up in the wake of the 2010 census were constitutional, despite packing African Americans into a single majority-minority district (indeed, Virginia’s only minority-majority district – represented by Congressman Scott himself).
The issue in this line of cases arose as a result of an increase in the percentage of the African American voting population included within the district lines (from 53% to 56%). Petitioners argued this violated the contiguous and compact district requirements under Article II of the Constitution of Virginia, and had the effect of diluting African American votes in other districts by concentrating them in a district in which African Americans already constituted a significant majority. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court remanded the case back to the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, and suggested that a federal judicial panel reconsider whether the district had the discriminatory effect alleged. The judicial panel required Virginian legislators to redraw the map by September 3, a deadline that has passed without action by the state.