A federal court ruled Tuesday that the Virginia House of Delegates unconstitutionally packed African-American voters into 11 legislative districts and gave the House until Oct. 30 to draw new district lines.
In a 2-1 opinion, a federal panel made up of district and appellate judges ruled that the House violated the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause by prioritizing race during the 2011 redistricting process.
“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.
The court instructed the General Assembly to “construct a remedial districting plan that rectifies the constitutional decencies.”
The federal case was one of two recent lawsuits with potential to reshape the Republican-controlled General Assembly by making several GOP-held districts more competitive.
The suit was filed by Democratic lawyer Marc E. Elias on behalf of a group of Virginia voters.
He argued the House drew too many African-American voters into majority-black districts, diluting their voting power elsewhere.
The challenged districts are in the Richmond area, Petersburg and Hampton Roads. Eleven of the 12 challenged districts are currently represented by African-American lawmakers.
Lawyers for the House GOP insisted that the 55 percent African-American voter threshold they used while redrawing House districts in 2011 was necessary to comply with the Voting Rights Act and preserve the civil rights of black voters.