The Norman Transcript

Nation/World

May 4, 2014

Lawsuit alleges ’racial gerrymandering’ in Va.

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia is one of several states where Democrats have gone to court to challenge redistricting plans drawn by Republicans seeking to keep control of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Marc Elias, an attorney for the National Democratic Redistricting Trust, represents two Virginia voters in a lawsuit that accuses the General Assembly of “racial gerrymandering” by improperly packing African-Americans into the state’s only black-majority congressional district to make adjacent districts safer for GOP incumbents. A trial is set for this month.

“We’re trying to remedy what we believe is an unconstitutional map drawn by the legislature,” Elias said.

Democrats have also challenged GOP-drawn redistricting plans in other states — including Texas, Florida, Nevada and Missouri — but they are not alone in employing the tactic. Republicans also have asked courts to invalidate Democrat-produced remapping in a few states.

“It’s not unusual at all to see whichever party feels aggrieved to try to correct what they think is unfair damage through the courts,” said Justin Levitt, a law professor and redistricting expert at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. “It’s just that you’re seeing more lawsuits by Democrats because Republicans were in control of more redistricting.”

This isn’t the first lawsuit challenging Virginia’s reapportionment plan. State and federal courts previously dismissed lawsuits claiming the General Assembly violated a state constitutional provision by failing to complete redistricting until 2012, a year late.

Ethnic groups and others have also brought redistricting lawsuits in some states, Levitt said. So far in this redistricting cycle, he said, 208 lawsuits have been filed dealing with state legislative or congressional redistricting, or both. The National Conference of State Legislatures says 28 lawsuits remain active in nine states.

States redraw legislative and congressional districts after every decennial census to adjust for population shifts. The exercise creates the opportunity for gerrymandering — the manipulation of district boundaries, usually to achieve a partisan advantage.

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