By ALAN SUDERMAN
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - A panel of federal judges has rejected a lawsuit alleging that the Virginia House of Delegates illegally packed black voters into a dozen legislative districts.
The judges ruled 2-1 Thursday that the House redistricting plan approved in 2011 was constitutional and did not improperly gerrymander the legislative map to concentrate African Americans into 12 legislative districts and diminish black voters' influence in the rest of the state.
The ruling is a blow to state Democrats, who earlier prevailed in a similar case involving the state's congressional boundaries.
GOP House Speaker William J. Howell praised the ruling. He said the lawsuit was frivolous and a waste of public resources.
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Press Release from OneVirginia2021:
In a surprise 2-1 decision, the three judge panel upheld the constitutionality of the challenged House of Delegates districts in the Bethune-Hill case. In a 176 page opinion with a strong dissent by 4th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Keenan, the panel approved of the 55% black voting age population threshold. This same threshold was ruled a racial gerrymander when it applied to the Third Congressional District case earlier this year.
Brian Cannon, the Executive Director of OneVirginia2021: Virginians for Fair Redistricting said, "the court had to decide whether this was a racial gerrymander or a political gerrymander. It called these districts a political gerrymander. Despite being antithetical to democracy, political gerrymandering is completely legal. This court's ruling makes the case for reforming Virginia's redistricting process to make political gerrymandering illegal. There's no place in our Commonwealth for racial or political gerrymandering."
While this lawsuit was dismissed, there is still a strong challenge to the gerrymandered districts brought forward by OneVirginia2021 that avoids the issue of racial gerrymandering and the complicated jurisprudence of the Voting Rights Act. The OneVirginia2021 lawsuit, the only non-partisan redistricting lawsuit filed in Virginia's history, is based on the state's requirement for compact districts. Read more at www.onevirginia2021.org/compact.
OneVirginia2021: Virginians for Fair Redistricting is a group of dedicated Virginians from across the political spectrum who believe congressional and state legislative districts belong to the citizens of our Commonwealth, and not to any legislator, special interest, or political party. We advocate for a fair process, not a particular political outcome.
Statement of House Speaker William J. Howell:
RICHMOND, VA – Virginia House of Delegates Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) issued the following statement on the Eastern District Court’s decision in Bethune-Hill et al v. Virginia State Board of Elections e.t al. In a 2-1 decision written by Senior U.S. District Judge Robert E. Payne, the Court upheld the House of Delegates redistricting plan adopted in 2011, concluding that “each of the twelve Challenged Districts withstands constitutional scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause.” The full opinion can be found here.
“We are very pleased that the Eastern District Court upheld the bipartisan redistricting plan adopted by the House of Delegates in 2011. Today’s decision validates our consistently held view that the House districts were drawn in accordance with the Constitution, all state and federal laws, and in a fair and open process.
“This politically-motivated lawsuit, funded by liberal billionaires, unnecessarily cost Virginia taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars. The lawsuit came despite the fact that the House districts were adopted with bipartisan support, including the support of a majority of the African American members in the House of Delegates at the time, and approved by President Obama's Department of Justice.
"We will continue to defend the validity of the House districts and remain confident they will withstand legal scrutiny."