Isle of Wight in newly altered third district

Published 1:45 pm Wednesday, January 13, 2016

By Matt Leonard

Staff writer

A federal appeals court in Richmond has ordered the congressional districts to be redrawn last week in a decision that could give black voters more say in elections and potentially add a Democratic seat in the House of Representatives.

Isle of Wight will now be in the third congressional district – the same district as Newport News – and Surry country will be in the fourth congressional district. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

The court found the third district to be unconstitutionally drawn last year. That decision came after Democratic lawmakers sued, alleging that Republicans had unfairly packed minority voters into a district represented by Congressman Bobby Scott, who said he welcomes the change in district lines, which will take effect in the 2016 election.

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“I am pleased that the court has imposed a new congressional map that fixes the unconstitutional racial gerrymander of Virginia’s third congressional district,” Scott said in a statement on Thursday.

He added that it is consistent with a proposal he recommended more than a decade ago. But he said in a later interview that the Supreme Court could issue a stay or the General Assembly could intervene. Either case could lead to the maps reverting back to the previous lines, he said.

The new districts will decrease the black population in Scott’s district from 56 percent to 45 percent, but increased the black electorate in the neighboring fourth district from 31 percent to 40 percent, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.

Of the 11 representatives in Virginia, eight of them are Republicans.

The change only affects the third district and the districts that surround it.

Last year, when the court ruled that the third district was unconstitutional and gerrymandered based on race, judges ordered the General Assembly to act on redrawing the lines. After a special session to do just that the lines remained unmoved.

“When the General Assembly failed to act, we took up the task of drawing a remedial plan,” the opinion said.

Quentin Kidd, director of the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University, said he suspects this will make the fourth district a competitive, democratic leaning district.

“You still have to be a confident Democratic candidate who runs a confident campaign in order to win,” Kidd said.

But these changes could be overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, which has agreed to consider the case.

Kidd said this could be the reason the appeals court decided the way they did. The Supreme Court decision could come as late as May, so creating the new districts now give legislators more time to learn the district they will represent.

Had they made the opposite decision — or no decision — politicians would have had just a handful of months to learn the new district. Now, if the decision is overturned it reverts back to old districts that most are familiar with, Kidd said.

This was echoed in the majority opinion – written by U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady and Judge Albert Diaz – stating “the risk of error increases the later the (Virginia Board of Elections) is given a new plan to implement.”

“By adopting a remedy now, the Commonwealth faces the lesser evil of implementing new districts at a time when it remains a relatively manageable task,” the opinion stated.

The court brought in Bernard Grofman of the University of California, Irvine to help redraw the lines. He presented the courts with two options and the court decided on which would best alleviate the issue of racial gerrymandering.

In the dissenting opinion, U.S. District Judge Robert E. Payne said that the plaintiff had failed to prove any racial bias in the drawing of lines and said he worried about the voters being confused about the district they’re in.

But Democrats across the state are heralding the decision as a step in the right direction.

“This is a historic step forward in ending the injustice that racial gerrymandering inflicts upon those whose voices it silences,” Susan Swecker, Chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Virginia, said in a statement on Friday.

“Virginia Democrats are now poised to gain a Congressional seat which will grant many voters stronger representation in Congress.”

O’Grady and Diaz and confident that the Supreme Court won’t overturn their ruling based on SCOTUS’ ruling against Alabama earlier this year, which found the state had relied too heavily on race in drawing districts.

Scott, who will now be representing most of Isle of Wight – which he has in the past as well – also believes the ruling will be upheld. But he cautions that it’s not over until the Supreme Court rules on it.

“That should pretty much put an end to it,” Scott said of the upcoming SCOTUS ruling.  {/mprestriction}

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