Up against election deadlines, judges could pick new Va. legislative map in next two months

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Three federal judges said Thursday they could decide on new districts for Virginia’s House of Delegates in the next one to two months, replacing a current map that was found to be unconstitutional.Lawyers representing House Republicans spent two hours Thursday questioning the methods used by the man ordered by the federal court to redraw Virginia’s legislative map after lawmakers failed to do so last year.Representatives for the GOP and Speaker of the House Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, stressed the same issue that led the court to throw out Virginia’s map in the first place: whether race was a predominant factor in the drawing.The lawyers argued Bernard Grofman also used racial data and purposely divided “naturally occurring” areas of high black voters to ensure no district’s voters were more than 55 percent black in the several map options he turned in to the court late last year.
That same 55 percent threshold was used arbitrarily to dilute black votes in certain legislative districts, according to last year’s U.S. District Court ruling. But House Republicans say there was nothing improper in the 2011 redistricting plan’s target that the 11 districts be at least 55 percent black.“It’s swapping one type of racial sorting over another,” said Katherine McKnight, one of the lawyers for House Republicans.Grofman said any changes to the black voting-age population in his maps occurred by happenstance, because he didn’t use that data when drawing the maps. Black voters make up at most 54 percent of the population in the 26 districts he’s changed, with the exception of one district that’s at 55 percent.Another lawyer representing Republican delegates, Mark Braden, noted in the 92nd District, represented by Del. Jeion Ward of Hampton, Grofman split a heavily black community between two districts.

But Grofman said there was no conscious effort to do that. …

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