A three-judge federal panel struck down Virginia’s state House of Delegates map Tuesday afternoon as unconstitutionally gerrymandered along racial lines.
The 2-1 ruling ordered the state to come up with a redistricting plan by Oct. 30, eliminating a map that had actually increased the number of minority legislators but had the effect of diluting blacks’ voting power by sorting them into majority-minority districts and making the rest of the state map more Republican friendly.
“Overwhelming evidence in this case shows that, contrary to this constitutional mandate, the state has sorted voters into districts based on the color of their skin,” Judge Barbara Milano Keenan wrote in the majority opinion of the U.S. District Court for Eastern District of Virginia.
The case marked a shift in strategy for pro-Democrat and minority groups, whose demands in earlier decades for more minority lawmakers could easily be met by Republican-controlled legislatures by using this strategy to create fewer Democratic-leaning districts.
“Big win for voting rights in Virginia! Federal Court STRIKES DOWN 11 Virginia State House districts as unconstitutional racial gerrymanders. Gives the legislature ‘until October 30 to construct a remedial districting plan that rectifies the constitutional deficiencies,’” Marc Elias, a Democratic lawyer for the plaintiffs, crowed on Twitter.
Mr. Elias had argued in the case, Bethune-Hill vs. Virginia Board of Elections that in 2011 the GOP-led Virginia legislature diluted black voting power by drawing 12 majority-black districts, including Richmond. The case had made it to the U.S. Supreme Court, which vacated part of an earlier ruling and then sent it back to the District Court to be decided anew.
Even under the old map, Democrats gained 15 seats in the 2017 elections thanks to the usual off-year energetic surge against the incumbent president’s party, trimming the Republican edge from 66-34 majority to just 51-49. Virginia next votes for House of Delegates members in 2019.