On January 22, 2019, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia issued an order adopting a remedial district plan for the Virginia House of Delegates. Pending the outcome of subsequent appeals, the remedial map will apply to the 2019 election cycle. Both chambers of the Virginia legislature hold elections this November.
House Speaker Kirk Cox (R) criticized the plan: “The Eastern District Court selected a series of legally indefensible redistricting modules that attempts to give Democrats an advantage at every turn. The modules selected by the Court target senior Republicans, myself included, without a substantive basis in the law.”
Democratic attorney Marc Elias, who initiated the suit in 2014, praised the order: “In Virginia, the Federal Court in the long-running state house redistricting case has ordered the special master to adopt the alternative-map configuration we advocated. We are one important step closer to the end of the GOP’s racial gerrymander.”
At present, Republicans control the House of Delegates, holding 51 seats to Democrats’ 48. Larry Sabato, head of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, said, “[The remedial map] would nearly guarantee a Democratic takeover of the House of Delegates.”
The legality of the districts in question has been disputed since 2014 when opponents of the original district plan alleged that it constituted an illegal racial gerrymander. The case, Bethune-Hill v. Virginia Board of Elections, was ultimately heard by the Supreme Court of the United States, which ruled on March 1, 2017, that the lower court had erred in its earlier ruling that upheld the disputed districts. That unanimous ruling was written by former Justice Anthony Kennedy.
The high court remanded the case to the district court, which ruled on June 26, 2018, that 11 state legislative districts had been subject to racial gerrymandering. The court ordered state lawmakers to draft a remedial map, but the legislature proved unable to do so. The district court then appointed a special master, Bernard Grofman, a political science professor at the University of California, to draft the map adopted by the court this week.