Federal court dismisses lawsuit over Va. congressional redistricting

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RICHMOND — A federal court on Friday dismissed a lawsuit brought by six Virginia residents asking the court to step in and draw new lines for the state’s 11 congressional districts.

The case, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, was dismissed in part because the General Assembly’s passing a new redistricting plan rendered it moot, according to the office of Virginia Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II.

“We are pleased that the court has granted the Motion to Dismiss,” he said in a statement. “Both the United States Constitution and the Virginia Constitution provide that redistricting should be handled by the General Assembly. Because the General Assembly has now completed the required redistricting, it was appropriate for the court to decline to become involved.”

The lawsuit is similar to another one brought by six different residents in the Circuit Court of the City of Richmond. That lawsuit argues the new map approved last month by the assembly and signed by Gov. Bob McDonnell is invalid, since the state Constitution says the General Assembly is to pass a new map in years following the decennial census, which would have been 2011.

Judge Richard D. Taylor Jr. declined to dismiss the case, ruling that the legislature was obligated to reapportion the state’s congressional districts in 2011. He declined to rule, however, on whether the obligation to pass new districts in 2011 bars the assembly from reapportioning districts in 2012.

Mr. Cuccinelli’s office claimed the court did not have jurisdiction over the case, and filed a petition for a “writ of prohibition,” asking the state Supreme Court to stop the lower court from acting because it lacked jurisdiction. That petition, however, was denied.

After a months-long impasse last year, the state House and Senate recently passed a new redistricting plan that largely shores up the state’s current incumbents, likely preserving an 8-3 Republican advantage in the Virginia congressional delegation. With little fanfare, Mr. McDonnell recently signed into law the new map, which must still be pre-cleared with the U.S. Department of Justice.

Senate Democrats had pushed for a plan that would create a second minority-influence district by decreasing the black population in Democratic Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott’s meandering 3rd District and increasing it in Republican Rep. J. Randy Forbes’ southeastern 4th District. But after retaking control of the upper chamber after the November elections, the GOP quickly muscled through the House version less than two weeks into the 2012 session.

Any redistricting plan in Virginia must be pre-cleared with the U.S. Department of Justice under the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Mr. Cuccinelli has filed a suit for pre-clearance in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia and has sought administrative pre-clearance through the DOJ to expedite the process.

The Virginia House of Delegates has also approved emergency legislation that would move the state’s congressional primaries from June to August if new lines are not adopted by April 3.

“We will continue to defend the law passed by the General Assembly and signed by Governor McDonnell,” Mr. Cuccinelli said. “We continue to work with the U.S. Department of Justice for its pre-clearance of the new districts under the Voting Rights Act and are prepared to litigate that question, if necessary. Our goal is that the will of the people, as evidenced by the votes of their elected representatives, be enforced and that orderly elections occur in November.”

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