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A panel of federal judges has ordered the General Assembly to draw new lines for its U.S. House of Representatives’ districts after ruling the current setup unconstitutionally packs minority voters into one district that spans from Richmond to Norfolk.
Federal judges in the U.S. District Court for Eastern Virginia issued a similar ruling in the case last year, however that was appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States. The case was then remanded back to the federal district court, which on Friday issued a ruling again calling for new districts.
At the heart of the case was Democrat Rep. Bobby Scott’s Third Congressional District. It runs from downtown Richmond to downtown Norfolk and borders the First Congressional District, which includes the Historic Triangle. Any changes to the district will likely affect some or all of the Triangle.
The General Assembly has until Sept. 1 to redraw the lines. If the lines are not redrawn by then, the judges will redraw the lines. Either way, a new set of districts will be in place in time for the 2016 election, when all House seats are up.
How much the Triangle will be affected will remain unknown until the General Assembly issues a new set of districts. The Triangle’s current congressional district stretches from the Triangle as far north as Prince William County, featuring the Middle Peninsula and Northern Neck. Republican Rep. Rob Wittman has held that seat since 2007.
The case was decided on a 2-1 vote, with federal judges Allyson Duncan and Liam O’Grady ruling against the existing districts. In their majority opinion, they identified several factors causing them to believe race was a motivating factor in drawing the district lines, including that the Third District is “oddly shaped” to isolate minority voters, that large parts of the district were connected via narrow strips of land and that municipal limits were disregarded.
Their order prevents the state from conducting any election for a House seat until a new plan is adopted.
In a dissenting opinion, Judge Robert Payne wrote that race was not the “predominant factor” in drawing the Third District’s lines and that the evidence showed the state legislature drew the lines to focus on protecting incumbents.
Scott issued a statement Friday noting he was not a party to the lawsuit that sent the case before the federal judges.
“I hope and expect the General Assembly will more equitably and appropriately balance the influence of all Virginia’s voters, as mandated by this decision, when they redraw the third congressional district and adjacent congressional districts by the September 1st deadline,” he said in the statement.
Congressional lines are redrawn every 10 years following the conclusion of the U.S. Census. The current set of lines were crafted following the 2010 census. Virginia currently has 11 representatives in the House, eight of whom are Republicans. The GOP representatives cover the entire state except Scott’s territory and two seats representing Northern Virginia.