Virginia Redistricting Cases:  the 1990s

Republican Party of Virginia v. Wilder774 F. Supp. 400 (W.D. Va. 1991)

The Republican Party and a number of Republican members of the House of Delegates and voters challenged the 1991 redistricting plan for the House as a partisan gerrymander.  The gist of the complaint was that the plan paired 14 Republican incumbents with each other and one Republican with an Independent incumbent.  Only two Democrat incumbents were paired under the challenged plan. The three-judge panel of the District Court denied plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction to halt the 1991 election for the House on the ground that the plaintiffs had not met the Bandemer burden of proof.  While plaintiffs showed intentional discrimination against Republicans, plaintiffs failed to show the requisite discriminatory effect.  No elections had been held under the plan and the effect on the paired incumbents did not meet Bandemer standards.  The panel refused to enjoin the November 1991 elections, and plaintiffs did not pursue the litigation.

Jamerson v. Womack244 Va. 506, 423 S.E.2d 180 (Va. 1992)

Residents of two Southside Virginia Senate districts sued for declaratory relief that the General Assembly's Senate redistricting plan violated the compactness and contiguity requirements of article II, section 6 of the Constitution of Virginia.  The challenged 18th District stretched from Portsmouth in the east approximately 165 miles to Halifax County in the west and combined urban tidewater and rural agricultural areas. The Court upheld the plan and a chancellor's finding that the plan met constitutional compactness requirements.  He had found that the General Assembly had considered compactness and had honored competing interests (equal population, the Voting Rights Act requirements) in drawing the Senate districts. The Court gave deference to the chancellor's findings and the Legislature's responsibility for redistricting.  With regard to the constitutional compactness requirement, the Court stated that the requirement refers to territory and not to communities of interest and rejected the plaintiffs' contention that compactness covered both the form and content of the district.

Moon v. Meadows952 F. Supp. 1141 (E.D. Va. 1997); aff'd sub nom. Meadows v. Moon, 117 S.Ct. 2501 (1997) (mem.) and Harris v. Moon, 117 S. Ct. 2501 (1997) (mem.)

Residents of Virginia's Third Congressional District filed a Shaw/Bush challenge in 1995 to the Commonwealth's first majority-minority congressional district.  In February 1997, the three-judge panel of the District Court ruled that the Third District was an unconstitutional racial gerrymander and violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The Court enjoined future elections from the Third District until the General Assembly enacted a new and lawful plan.  The panel found first that race was the predominant motive in the drawing of the Third District.  Second, the panel discounted the Commonwealth's argument that there was a compelling state interest at stake in avoiding liability under Section 2 of the federal Voting Rights Act.  The panel found that the threat of a Section 2 violation was not "very credible."  Specifically, the panel held that the defendants did not prove the third Gingles element and that plaintiffs' expert testimony prevailed to show "that white bloc voting does not prevent blacks from electing their candidates of choice."  The panel noted that the defendant's showing on the first Gingles prong, that there is a minority group residing "in a geographically compact area" was "doubtful at best."  The Supreme Court affirmed without opinion.

The 1998 General Assembly redrew the Third District and four surrounding congressional districts and Governor Gilmore signed the legislation as Chapter 1 of the 1998 Acts of Assembly on February 11, 1998.  On February 13, the Commonwealth delivered submission documentation for review by the Department of Justice under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.  The revised plan reunites eight split jurisdictions, splits one locality, improves the compactness of the affected districts, and maintains the core areas of the existing districts.  The 11-member congressional delegation endorsed Chapter 1.  The new plan reduces the minority portion of the Third District voting age population from 61.60 to 50.47 percent.

The question remains unanswered whether a court challenge to Chapter 1 will be filed.

State Contact

Mary Spain, Senior Attorney
Division of Legislative Services
General Assembly Building, 2nd Floor
910 Capitol Street
Richmond, Virginia  23219
804/786-3591 voice
804/371-0169 fax