Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Virginia ACLU suggests two majority-minority Congressional districts: Democratic Senators scramble to validate their own substandard plan


Word reached the mainstream media today that the Virginia ACLU is shopping around an alternative Virginia Congressional redistricting proposal that contains two majority-minority districts.  The reason why this matters is that there is case law that suggests that if there can be even one more majority-minority district, then the redistricting plan with fewer majority minority districts is prima facie (presumed) discriminatory.  It is not clear to me if the alternate plan actually has to be proposed as legislation, or if any person can suggest the alternative plan to raise the spectre of litigation.

What was the status before this plan?

Virginia has a heavily gerrymandered House plan supposedly supported by the existing Congressional delegation.  Virginia also has a heavily gerrymandered Senate plan that creates a minority influence district out of the current minority-majority district, and then turns another district into a majority-minority district.  Both are expected to fail, and then a compromise to be worked out.  Since Governor McDonnell flexed his Veto pen on state level redistricting, and the existence of the alleged support of the existing Congressional delegation, it is safe to say the Republican House plan has a greater chance of success.

But legislators would be begging for a lawsuit if they do not support the ACLU plan, right?

According to Sen. Don McEachin, no.  As reported by the Washington Post: “the Department of Justice looks to the percentage of residents in districts who are older than 18 and are non-Hispanic black when examining the number of black residents in each district.”  Based on that analysis both majority-minority districts become minority influence districts. 
Mind you, the Department of Justice is not a substitute for a Federal Judge if the plan is challenged in Court (the DoJ can be a substitute for a Federal Judge in the preclearance process, only).

So is the ACLU’s plan DOA?

Not exactly.  The Department of Justice, under Georgia v. Ashcroft, 539 U.S. 461 (2003) and Beer v. United States, 425 U.S. 130 (1976) should be looking at the totality of opportunity for minority candidates.  This totality of opportunity should take into consideration minority population, minority voting age population, as well as minority voter registration among other items as legitimate factors in determining if a plan should be precleared.  

Additionally, I just do not understand how Sen. McEachin, could think the ACLU plan is any worse than the Senate plan.  

So how does the ACLU plan look?

Do not worry, it really is another gerrymandered atrocity.   I would say let it be submitted  to committee and debated, but there really has not been much actual debate on any Virginia redistricting plan so far.  Virginians should be used to this by now.  I am just waiting for the report from somewhere in Virginia for any of these plans that a precinct split resulted in residents of an apartment building being redistricted into different districts.

UPDATE: As of June 9, 2011, the Senate has passed a modified version of its previous plan.  The districts are far more compact and arguably more compact than the House plan.  It is far from perfection, and the majority-minority district barely tops over 50% Black Voting Age Population, making it harder to gain preclearance.  Nonetheless, it has only taken two and a half months, but the Senate Democrats are figuring out how to gain more support by making their plans more reasonable.  The publicly available information on this plan can currently only be found on the Division of Legislative Services redistricting website.

For other redistricting posts, primary sources, and other information regarding the Virginia Redistricting process in 2011 please see The Road to Redistricting Litigation in Virginia.

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