- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 19, 2002

In an outrageous effort to play the race card for political advantage, Roanoke County Circuit Court Judge Richard C. Pattisall ruled March 11 that the General Assembly violated the state constitution by "diluting" black voting strength when it redrew legislative boundaries last year. Judge Pattisall, a longtime Democratic Party activist, held that numerous district lines for the House and Senate were "racially" gerrymandered and ordered the Republican-controlled General Assembly to redraw the boundaries. Judge Pattisall ordered the state to come up with new boundaries and to hold elections in November just eight months from now. All 100 seats in the House of Delegates would apparently have to be on the ballot again, as scheduled, one year later.

The Pattisall ruling rests primarily on a very tendentious reading of federal voting rights law. The landmark 1965 federal Voting Rights Act was quite successful at ending the odious practices that denied blacks the right to vote in the segregationist South. But, in subsequent years, this law has been grotesquely contorted into a racial spoils system with one goal in mind: rigging political district boundaries in ways which will virtually ensure that a black or Hispanic individual will be elected. Liberal civil rights groups have traditionally embraced this sort of racial gerrymandering.

In Virginia, House Speaker Vance Wilkins gave Democrats a taste of their own medicine when he oversaw the redrawing of the lines last year with one thing in mind: a Republican majority in the legislature was not jeopardized in any way. He was spectacularly successful. In the November elections, Republicans, who had been clinging to a precarious 52-47 edge in the House of Delegates, picked up 12 seats. Today, they outnumber the Democrats by a 64-34 margin; two independent members caucus with Republicans. For Democrats who had been the majority party in both houses of the General Assembly for more than a century this is an unpleasant state of affairs. Add to this combustible mix the embarrassing defeat of Gov. Mark Warner's tax-increase referendums in the House earlier this month, and you have a lot of unhappy Democrats spoiling for revenge.

Mr. Warner sent an angry letter to state Attorney General Jerry Kilgore, who, against the governor's wishes, has vowed to appeal Judge Pattisall's ruling. Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe more crudely invoked the race card, denouncing what he asserted were Republican attempts to "disenfranchise Virginia's African-American voters." This is simply race-hustling claptrap. As Delegate Winsome Earle Sears, a black freshman Norfolk Republican noted, the Republicans last year did nothing different than the Democrats had done for more than a century in Virginia: create district boundaries that will make it easier to elect members of their party. That's political hardball.


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