The 3rd Congressional District
The 3rd Congressional District

 By Peter Galuszka

A panel of federal judges in Richmond has scrambled the carefully laid plans of legislators, most of them Republicans, to pack African-American voters into one congressional district to give the GOP an advantage in some of the  state’s 10 other districts.

The panel of U.S. District Court judges decreed that the General Assembly’s 2012 decision to draw new boundaries in the 3rd Congressional District stretching from Richmond east to several Tidewater cities was in error.

The state has until next April to redraw the 3rd District, now represented by U.S. Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, a Democrat who is the state’s only African American congressman.

That will undoubtedly impact other districts represented by white Republicans including U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes of the 4th District, U.S. Rep. Scott Ringell of the 2nd District and Robert J. Whitman of the 1st District.

This is indeed an interesting start to what could end up being a messy line of dominoes falling. And it shows just how wrongheaded politicians are when they tinker with voters by race by packing people of color in one district so races in other ones will be decidedly less competitive.

It also raises other questions about ways the GOP is doing its best to minimize the influence of young and non-white voters through the use of voter identification cards and other means.

To get an idea of how nuts the 3rd District is, look at a map. Moving west to east, it goes through eastern Richmond and Henrico County, swoops down the James River peninsula, and hop-scotches parts of the 1st District to include heavily African-American parts of Newport News and Hampton. Then, the District crosses Hampton Roads to include heavily black parts of Norfolk and Portsmouth and then heads west again to take also-black parts of counties on the south shore of the James River.

Scott is Virginia's only African-American Congressman
Scott is Virginia’s only African-American Congressman

This scheme packs African-Americans into one unit while mostly-white parts of Virginia Beach, Norfolk and Chesapeake and Williamsburg are covered in the 1st, 2nd and 4th Districts, all represented by white Republicans. Mostly-black Petersburg, a city of 32,000, was taken out of the 4th District and put in Scott’s 3rd District, giving white Republican Forbes of the 4th District an advantage.

Democrats such as State Sen. Mamie Locke have long complained about schemes that hop-scotch geography to give white candidates an advantage. They want tighter, more contiguous districts.

One can tell just how serious this is when Del. William Howell, the Republican House Speaker, had nothing to say about the court’s decision. He will have to somehow help navigate drawing up new district plans.

He’s really under the gun. He can’t just set up a road block as he did with Medicaid expansion and tell Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe where to stick it. If Howell shuns a bipartisan effort, then McAuliffe would likely veto whatever he and his colleagues come up with. Then it would go back to the judges to decide.

It is in Virginia’s interest to make sure all of its districts and not just ones for Congress are shaped to allow for more competitive races. Very few elections for state positions are contested. This, in turn, ruins bipartisan consensus and makes the primaries, usually for Republicans, more consequential than the races themselves. The results are either legislative gridlock or laws that have little to do with the wishes of many voters.

Another issue that needs to be addressed is what Mother Jones magazine has identified as a large-scale, national effort, mostly by Republicans, to make it harder for minorities and young people to vote. They tend to vote Democratic and helped Barack Obama win the presidency in 2008 and in 2012.

Since 2012, 22 states have passed new voting restriction laws that shorten voting hours or require a government-issued identification card or proof of citizenship. North Carolina has perhaps the worst of such measures. There are shorter hours and no more same-day registration to vote. It even gives the nod to “poll watchers” who can stand around outside polling places and hassle voters about their eligibility to vote. I guess that means if you look black or Hispanic or youthful, you get rousted by vigilantes. The odd part is that states, including Virginia, went for more restriction when there wasn’t much evidence of voter fraud.

To be sure, Virginia’s redistricting efforts were begun by federal initiatives such as the Voting Rights Act which gave Bobby Scott an opportunity to win as an African-American in the early 1990s. The Voting Rights Act was meant to ensure that minorities were represented but that concept has been cynically morphed into a Frankenstein that keeps minorities “packed” in a district or districts so whites maintain their hold on most of the other districts in a state.

The court’s decision is most welcome. Let’s hope it grows into a movement to return democratic competition and ends undemocratic restrictions like demanding extra and unnecessary pieces of identification for qualified voters.


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24 responses to “Good Ruling on Congressional Redistricting”

  1. well.. I’m quite sure that Bacon and TMT and others will weigh in saying that the “do-gooders” are the ones that got the frankenstein gerrymandering going originally.

    Then I’d ask – are we prepared to have NO Congressional districts with black Congressmen?

    and finally – I actually hope the job is taken away from the GA and does end up with judges – including GOP-appointed ones because I’d still have more confidence in them than the General Assembly

    with one exception – and that is McAuliffe insisting that the re-drawing be done by computer handled by an independent commission or else he’ll let th judge do it.

    and if I were the Dems – I’d set up a national network of volunteers whose sole job is to make sure everyone gets the required ID – and gets rides to the polls.

    it’s a direct affront to the principles of a Democratic governance to find ways to put up de-facto roadblocks to voting.

    let me also say – I am not opposed to picture IDs – as long as the state provides the outreach to voters to get them registered and I’m not opposed to centralized registries for BOTH guns and voters to ferret out those who should not be doing either…

    in the longer run – the GOP is going to have to face the demographic consequences of a country that is not majority old white guys.. who have essentially formed a blockade to legislation of any kind.

    1. LifeOnTheFallLine Avatar

      There is no one who should not be voting. Voter ID laws are absurd and provide a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.

      As to who and who should not access guns, well that’s a little more wiggle room there.

    2. TooManyTaxes Avatar

      Larry, there are state statutes governing reapportionment. It’s a long step from three district court judges finding a violation of the voting rights act to finding state law governing redistricting is unconstitutional. All McAuliffe can do is veto the passed legislation (the reapportionment).

      There is Virginia case law that says districts must respect local boundaries and communities of interest, as well as be compact. The Federal Voting Rights Act has been interpreted to trump state law in order to provide districts likely to be won by a protected minority. Those are the facts.

      I am receiving information in the mail that reminds me of the new voter ID law and tells me how do get an ID. I went for an ultrasound yesterday. I could not have the test done unless I showed a picture ID. When my kids went to camp, I had to show a picture ID to pick them up. When I got on planes to go to and from Des Moines, I had to show a photo ID. So why is voting different? So liberals can tell people Obama says to vote for so and so?

      Last year while moving my son into a college dorm, I saw Democratic volunteers urging students to register to vote in Virginia. A couple students said they live in another state and vote there. The Democrats countered by saying to vote in both states. No, there’s no voter fraud.

      1. TMT – I have to show my driver license to get a prescription out of Walmart and I do volunteer taxes where we require TWO IDs – a driver’s license AND a social security or Medicare card… so you will not find me with the lefties on this issue.

        At the same time – efforts to restrict advance voting, absentee voting and other things that make voting more convenient especially for working people and people who depend on rides from others is wrong.. and it does suppress the vote.

        Have the photo IDs, flush the rolls of people that should not vote – but stop the restrictions.. also.

        in terms of redistricting.. I think McAuliffe has leverage .. he can use it in a good or bad way .. I guess depending on one’s point of view but if he supports the development of a less partisan process that utilizes software which is non-partisan – I support it.

        I do not trust the yahoos in the general assembly any more than Don does.

        1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

          McAuliffe is a smart guy. I doubt he will use all his chips on redistricting. One of the first things I learned on the redistricting advisory board was not to purposely put incumbents in “bad” districts. He’s got three more years to work with the GA.

          Fairfax County offers in person absentee voting at several locations around the county as well as by mail voting. If someone wants to vote, she/he can. But what the lefties want are people voting more than once.

          1. ” McAuliffe is a smart guy. I doubt he will use all his chips on redistricting. One of the first things I learned on the redistricting advisory board was not to purposely put incumbents in “bad” districts. He’s got three more years to work with the GA.”

            he’s smart – and pragmatic.. but human..and partisan – we’ll see

            “Fairfax County offers in person absentee voting at several locations around the county as well as by mail voting. If someone wants to vote, she/he can. But what the lefties want are people voting more than once.”

            some lefties might because they are misguided as the folks on the right.

            that’s why we need some adults in the game.

            it’s WRONG to restrict voting -no matter the reasons you have.

            fix the problems. require proper ID. centralize the voting lists and find the dups and take them off the list and require those taken off to re-register but I see no reason why they cannot be re-registered on the day of voting with proper computers or provide them with a provisional ballot.

            there is no legitimate excuse for restricting voting.

            Kudos to Fairfax.. now let’s get the rest of Va to the 21st century – and force the Republican party to deal with the reality of the demographics of voters.

      2. NoVaShenandoah Avatar

        TooManyTaxes, given what I have seen of Virginia, flush those statutes down the toilette. That’s where they belong.

  2. LifeOnTheFallLine Avatar

    If this shifts the districts so I end up in Eric Cantor’s old political stomping grounds I will do cartwheels.

    Also, in before the principled independents and their “blah blah blah false equivalence blah blah blah both sides do it.”

  3. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    Connolly and Beyer will wind up in the same congressional district.

  4. NoVaShenandoah Avatar

    Considering the state of ethics in our political circles, the only solution is one that relies strictly by demographics applied by a neutral party. With no input from the politicians.

  5. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    In 1991 state GOP legislators themselves filed a complaint with the Department of Justice to get part of the 1991 House of Delegates map invalidated, because one district (drawn by Democrats) failed to contain a sufficient concentration of minority voters to allow a minority candidate to win. Justice agreed and the map was redone. The upshot — goodbye Hardaway Marks and hello Riley Ingram. Many Republicans were furious that we filed that complaint and took political advantage of the Voting Rights Act.

    That same year the initial State Senate plan, again drawn by Democrats, contained far fewer minority-majority districts than was possible. A revolt within Democratic ranks prevented that, forcing a very different map that increased the number of majority-minority districts. The result? More African American AND more Republican senators in 1992. The two parties have traded control of that chamber ever since.

    Old game. Nothing new here. Both parties will take advantage if given a chance. The voting Rights Act requires some degree of packing and the question has always been, how much is too much or too little. The courts keep moving the goal posts. Stories on this seldom mention that the now-invalid 3rd District was approved by the Obama Justice Department.

    I remain skeptical of any proposal for a “non partisan independent” panel to draw the map. Somebody appoints them and judges (often former politicians) will rule on disputes. A former Democratic Virginia state senator sat on the federal bench panel that rejected another GOP lawsuit over the 1991 plan. I still think the best solution is strict rules on compactness and contiguity and community of interest and one-man-one-vote.

    1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

      Steve, good summary and quite consistent with my recollection of the 1990s’ redistricting. I do recall that the Ds put both Vince Callahan and Bob Andrews in the same McLean district. But the law is clear – redistricting for political purposes in and of itself is not illegal.

      Since more blacks vote Democratic, the application of the federal Voting Rights Law will necessarily result in some districts with heavier concentrations of GOP voters. And will also result in oddly shaped districts.

      The current dispute raises interesting issues about over-packing blacks in a single district versus creating two districts that could be expected to elect black members of Congress. But, as Steve implies, that doesn’t end the process. Assuming the district court decision is upheld, expect the GOP to create the remaining nine districts in a way that favors Republicans. Duh!

      As I posted earlier and assuming Connolly is reelected and Beyer is elected, I truly expect the GA to put them in the same district in an effort to trade a white Democrat for a black one. Why wouldn’t they?

      I also agree with Steve’s skepticism over “nonpartisan” redistricting. Darn few people are truly “nonpartisan.” To me, it’s much worse to see partisan redistricting occur under the guise of a nonpartisan panel and process than it is for partisan redistricting to occur in the open. Politics is a contact sport.

    2. Why not have the judges appoint them and do it like a jury where each side can throw out some …the consider partisan.

      and have the judge run the committee… the same judge that you trust to do redistricting fairly?

      you have to take this out of the hands of the active politicians and put it in the hands of someone is cannot be “reached”.

      see – we TRUST judges MORE than we do politicians and so get the politicians out of the game.. it’s not nirvana.. and there needs to be a way to remove the judge if he/she turn out bad – like we do now.

      but as long as we leave this in the hands of politicians – it’s going to be corrupt and perverted.

      I no more trust Bill Howell than a car salesman and the same with McAuliffe … ditto.

      1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

        Larry, I would never argue that judges are any less partisan when engaged in the redistricting process, most especially when they are either devising plans or appointing people to devise a plan. Judges were never expected to perform non-judicial functions. In fact, I trust them much less than legislators because judges can easily hide partisanship under the bushel basket of judicial impartiality. Whereas we all know legislators are partisan creatures.

        When they are reviewing a redistricting plan either in a lawsuit at the trial court level or on appeal, there are standards of law that govern judge’s actions. And the worst thing that can happen to any judge is to see his/her decision reversed for error. I have much more confidence in the judicial system when it performs its traditional function than I have in a judge or panel of judges performing extra-judicial functions.

        Bottom Line: Judges were not created to redistrict states, run schools or operate prisons. They are here solely to settle disputes (civil and criminal) based on the law and facts.

        1. TMT – don’t you have judges on the 4th Circuit and SCOTUS that you let decide political issues?

          we have judges that appoint local officials.. school board members..etc… right?

          1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

            There is a legal doctrine that courts should not decide political issues/questions. It generally means that where the founders intended an issue to be decided by another branch of government, the courts should defer to that branch. So courts should not decide whether a governor or president should veto a bill. A judge should not decide whether Congress could form a committee on terrorism or drug laws. A court should not take it upon itself to redistrict a state legislature.

            Of course, if Congress or the Constitution have set standards for evaluating action or non-action, a court can review the matter as a part of a lawsuit or appeal for compliance with the law. For example, does the existing congressional apportionment meet the standards of the Voting Rights Act. If not, the court can order the plan to be changed to meet the standards by a reasonable date.

            But it would totally improper for a judge to conclude that he/she did not believe the GA would fairly adopt a redistricting plan and strip authority from the GA to appoint a commission to handle the matter or devise a plan by the judge. A judge who did this should be removed from the bench in my opinion.

            Do you have examples of judges appointing local officials?

          2. TMT – can judges not decide in redistricting is correct and force it to be redrawn and reject it if they don’t like it?

            I don’t have any examples but am looking.. and school boards can be…

  6. Richard Avatar

    This area of the law is crazy and completely up in the air. This decision might have gone the other way if the S. Ct. hadn’t invalidated part of the Voting Rights Act. The key finding of the Court is that the VA legislator who drew up the district explicitly used race as a criteria – the district went from 53% (?) to 57%(?) black voters and apparently there were statements made and other evidence that this was intentional. VA (the Republican legislature) argued that it wasn’t race, but to protect incumbents, which is not prohibited (rather it is to be expected).

    Now under the Voting Rights Act instead of assuming that any change is racially biased unless the Justice Department approves it, the Voting Rights law says that the courts can only intervene if there is actual evidence of bias. That’s apparently what 2 of 3 on the panel found.

    The author of the opinion, Judge Duncan, is a 4th Circuit Court judge. She is a Republican African-American woman , who worked (along with Anita Hill) for Clarence Thomas when he headed the EEOC.

  7. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    Sounds like a state version of a federal magistrate judge. I’m not troubled by this, but don’t want judges exercising power in the legislative or executive areas. Neither did the founders of this nation.

    A good judge needs to be as impartial as possible. A judge must decided cases based on the facts presented by the parties and the applicable law. A judge who interjects his/her personal views on redistricting should be removed from the bench, IMO.

    One of the leading cases addressing the removal of a federal district court judge from a case because he crossed the line from impartial jurist to advocate is RESERVE MINING CO. v. LORD, 529 F.2d 181 (8th Cir. 1976) .

    The court, in an opinion by Judge Donald Lay (both Lay and Miles Lord were appointed by LBJ), said the following: “Judge Lord seems to have shed the robe of the judge and to have assumed the mantle of the advocate. The court thus becomes lawyer, witness and judge in the same proceeding, and abandons the greatest virtue of a fair and conscientious judge—impartiality.

    “A judge best serves the administration of justice by remaining detached from the conflict between the parties. As Justice McKenna stated long ago, “[T]ribunals of the country shall not only be impartial in the controversies submitted to them but shall give assurance that they are impartial . . . .” Berger v. United States, 255 U.S. 22, 35-36 (1921). When the judge joins sides, the public as well as the litigants become overawed, frightened and confused.”

    Every judge should follow the Canons of Ethics and act with complete impartiality. Sometimes that means biting one’s tongue. The good ones, irrespective of party, do it.

    1. but judges decide if redistricting is legal?

    2. TMT – this was a fact-finding court. It found that the facts showed that the district was put together to discriminate against black voters, a violation of the Voting Rights Act ( and I would think the 13th and 14th amendments although it didn’t go there). The court found in essence that the new district nullified the votes of those folks in Petersburg who were added to the district, and that the legislature did so because they were voters were African American. This is no different than diluting the black vote by splitting it among many districts – the original issue with the Voting Rights Act. If the Republicans had been more careful in how they did their research and characterized their actions, they might not have gotten this result. They got a bit overexcited about winning control of the redistricting process.
      These are interesting issues, and reveal the true nature of the Republican party, but until the next census the Republicans have a lock on the Congress. It’s odd that the House, which was supposed to be changeable and reflect new ideas and the “will of the people” is the part of Congress that is most intractable – it’s become the defender of its own incumbency and the status quo that pays for its campaigns.

      1. I still find it interesting that TMT does not think the courts should be involved in politics but in the case of voting rights and districts – they not only involve themselves but they overrule the politics and politicians, .. because of illegalities of the law and unconstitutional actions by legislators.

        I’d prefer to have the courts do the job from the get go and if they see fit to appoint advisory committee’s to get perspectives, that’s okay also as long as in the end – it’s the Courts that decide the issue – instead of politicians.

        Doesn’t the Voting Rights Act essentially put the judges in charge?

  8. Thanks for noting this “negative” of the Voting Rights Act.

    Former SC Justice Sandra Day O’Conner talked quit a bit about this minority-majority districting effect and Ronald Reagan floated the prospect of suspending the 1965 law. Reagan was pounced on as not caring about African Americans and coverage emphasized that canard instead of that the law had actually evolved to the point it could hurt Southern blacks. Even larger than packing black Democrats in the same district, the Voting Rights Act also has prevented annexations across the 11 Southern States even after city governments became heavily minority over the last 30 years. Annexing suburbs — which are still primarily Anglo — meant diluting the voting power of inner-city blacks. Consequently, the Justice department refused to allow dozens of annexations which would have brought more money into Southern inner-city coffers.

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