- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 2, 2002

RICHMOND The Virginia Supreme Court yesterday upheld the 2001 state legislative redistricting plan crafted by the General Assembly's Republican majority.

The court ruled unanimously that the plan does not violate constitutional standards for making districts compact and does not amount to racial gerrymandering. The court also found that the plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge some of the districts because they could not show they were harmed.

Salem Circuit Judge Richard C. Pattisall had nullified new districts for the House of Delegates and state Senate, but the Supreme Court put the ruling on hold while the case was appealed.

Two dozen Democratic legislators and 22 other residents challenged the plan in June 2001. Republicans gained 12 seats in elections held in the new districts the following November, increasing their majority to 64 in the 100-seat House. The Senate has not yet held elections in the new districts.

State Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore said the ruling "removes this cloud from the House and Senate districts. We're free to look at 2003 with some certainty."

In his ruling, Judge Pattisall said the legislature illegally packed black voters into a few black-majority districts to weaken their influence in adjoining white-majority districts. In doing so, the assembly failed to adhere to traditional principles that districts should be compact and contiguous, he found.

The state argued that there was no evidence that the legislature gave greater weight to race than to partisan considerations, incumbent protection and other factors, and the Supreme Court agreed.

"Unquestionably, the complainants have shown that race was a factor in designing these majority minority districts," Justice Elizabeth B. Lacy wrote of four of the challenged districts. "The record shows, however, that these districts also were drawn with attention to such factors as population equalization, compactness and contiguity, retention of core districts where possible, and enhancement of communities of political interest."

The legislature's Democratic leadership issued a statement expressing disappointment.

"The court's opinion addresses the legal and technical issues of the case, but it does not address the issues of fairness or common sense," the Democrats said. "We believe that this redistricting plan is unjust, discriminatory and unfair to the citizens of Virginia."

Mr. Kilgore said the ruling affirmed that the General Assembly went by the book in redistricting.

"The law was on our side, and we are gratified the court made its decision based on the law," he said.

Justice Leroy Hassell wrote a separate opinion concurring in the court's ruling.

"The plaintiffs' failure to establish that the General Assembly relied predominantly upon race rather than basic political considerations, such as incumbency, is fatal to the plaintiffs' case," he wrote.

The defendants also accused the plaintiffs of judge-shopping, but the Supreme Court did not address that issue. Judge Pattisall is a lifelong Democrat who was denied reappointment by the legislature shortly before he ruled in the redistricting case in March.

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