As a slew of lawyers scurried around trying to organize their maps and evidence, Judge Payne sat calmly in the center of a three-judge panel. In late May of 2014, high-powered lawyers boiled down mountains of statistics, diagrams, and expert opinions into a two-day bench trial. They needed to convince Judge Payne and two Fourth Circuit judges to rule that the General Assembly primarily used race to concoct Virginia’s fantastically shaped 3rd congressional district. Against all odds, they succeeded. Although all the attention and spotlight has been on Alabama, Virginia has been facing its own mudslinging, partisan wrangling, racial packing lawsuit. Three plaintiffs – Dawn Curry Page, Gloria Personhuballah and James Farkas – have challenged the constitutionality of Virginia’s 3rd congressional district as a racial gerrymander in violation of the Equal Protection Clause. They allege that the General Assembly “packed” black voters into the 3rd district, Virginia’s only minority-majority district, to dilute minority influence in the surrounding predominantly white districts. In the enacted plan, the black voting-age population increased from 53.1 percent to 56.3 percent while it decreased in every adjacent district. Furthermore, African-Americans “accounted for over 90% of the added voting age residents.”
In light of Shelby County, the Plaintiffs argue that the Defendants cannot use Section 5 non-retrogression requirements as a defense for racially packing the 3rd district. As such, the Plaintiffs contend that the General Assembly’s use of race as a predominant factor in drawing district lines is unconstitutional under Shaw.
In a time-tested response, the Defendants argue that politics not race was the predominant districting factor. The Republican-controlled General Assembly wanted to keep Democrats in the 3rd District to keep them out of the surrounding districts leading to a perpetual 8-3 Republican majority for Virginia congressional seats.