June 10, 2015 — Last October, an Eastern District of Virginia special three-judge panel declared VA District 3 (Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Richmond/ Norfolk) unconstitutional. According to the ruling, the draw packed African Americans, thereby diluting the black community’s influence in other districts even though the map was constructed to the dictates of the Voting Rights Act and previous court decisions.
The Republican appeal went to the US Supreme Court, which in turn sent the congressional plan back to the court of origination in order to determine the next course of action. The Supreme Court is using an Alabama state legislative case to chart new ground in relation to minority district redistricting and appears to be returning maps from cases before them back to the lower courts with instructions to add specifics.
The federal Virginia panel took action late last Friday and sent the map to the legislature with instructions to re-draw the 3rd District. As is the case with all redistricting, changes to one CD will affect at least two and possibly several districts. Most likely, Rep. Randy Forbes (R) will find his 4th District significantly changed, much to his chagrin.
It is likely that the Forbes’ seat, which begins in the far southeastern sector of the state originating in the congressman’s home town of Chesapeake, and then moves west as far as Emporia before turning northward, skirting the cities of Norfolk, Petersburg, and Richmond, will see parts of these municipalities added to his territory. Each of the cities feature large African-American populations.
Similar changes could be in store for Rep. Scott Rigell (R) in the 2nd District. This seat contains most of Virginia Beach, but picks up the city of Newport News and the Virginia section of the Delmarva Peninsula. Therefore, a “three-district roll” involving Scott’s 3rd, Forbes’ 4th, and Rigell’s 2nd districts is also a possibility.
The court has given the legislature until Sept. 1 to draw the new map, or the three judges will step in to change the districts. Republicans have the right to appeal this ruling, and may do so. They will attempt to drag out the process in order to eliminate having to run under a new map for the 2016 election cycle. Being able to consume the legal clock for that long a period may be difficult, especially with the threat looming that the court could order special elections once the new plan is finally adopted.
Completing the process before the Sept. 1 deadline will all depend upon the Republican legislature and Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe reaching a consensus. While the more politically moderate and tighter state Senate (21R-19D) would be more likely to compromise with McAuliffe, the Virginia House of Delegates (67R-32D-1I) may be a different story. The Republican goal will be to hold the level of change down to a minimum, have the new map take effect in the 2018 campaign, and risk only one seat. Democrats will want to have a shot of gaining at least two districts in the current election cycle.
Since two other states, Texas and North Carolina, are in similar positions, we can expect to see legal action soon occurring in these places. Additionally, maps throughout the South could also eventually be affected.
Furthermore, if the Arizona Republicans win their Supreme Court decision –- we should see a ruling by the end of this month –- then states with congressional redistricting commissions (Arizona, California, New Jersey, Washington) could also be headed for a re-draw. Just when we should be beginning to see data accumulation and preparation for the 2020 census and 2021 redistricting, an inordinate number of states this late in the decade could be returning to the drawing board to replace their 2011 plans.