- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 18, 2002

RICHMOND (AP) Virginia's congressional redistricting plan illegally dilutes the voting strength of black residents in the Tidewater area, according to a lawsuit filed yesterday by nine black residents of the 4th Congressional District.

At the same time, Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore filed a motion to vacate a politically charged ruling that last year's Republican-authored legislative reapportionment plan is unconstitutional because the judge improperly consulted a constitutional scholar.

The lawsuit filed in Petersburg Circuit Court says that the legislature's Republican majority cut the black population of the 4th District from 39.4 percent to 33.6 percent to protect the seat for U.S. Rep. J. Randy Forbes.

That violates the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the complaint says.

Mr. Forbes, a white Republican, defeated Democratic state Sen. L. Louise Lucas, who is black, in a bitterly contested special election last year to fill the vacancy left by the death of longtime Democratic Rep. Norman Sisisky. The election was held under the old boundaries with the higher black population.

The candidates and the Democratic and Republican national committees backing them spent a total of nearly $7 million in just 32 days.

Mr. Kilgore, meanwhile, asked in his motion that Salem Circuit Court Judge Richard C. Pattisall's ruling be thrown out because the judge consulted with University of Virginia constitutional scholar A.E. Dick Howard in connection with the case and failed to disclose it.

Mr. Howard oversaw the drafting of the present version of the Virginia Constitution and is considered the foremost authority on it.

Rules of the Virginia Supreme Court require judges disclose all "ex parte" communications as they consider cases and to give the parties an opportunity to respond.

Mr. Kilgore and his fellow Republicans want Judge Pattisall's ruling overturned, while Democrats want the state Supreme Court to uphold it and order new elections this year in redrawn districts.

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