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Virginia Politics
Posted at 03:48 PM ET, 01/25/2012

Bob McDonnell signs Va. congressional redistricting bill into law

Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) signed into law a congressional redistricting plan passed by the Republican-led General Assembly last
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R). (John Raoux - AP)
week that many Democrats say dilutes the rights of minorities.

The plan largely protects the 11 sitting congressmen, making it likely that the current delegation split of eight Republicans and three Democrats will be preserved.

The law still needs approval from the U.S. Justice Department to ensure that it complies with the Voting Rights Act before it can take effect, a process that can last as long as 60 days.

The plan, like Virginia’s current map, includes one majority-minority district.

The House passed the same plan last year to reflect population shifts revealed by the 2010 Census, but it was never taken up by the Democratic-controlled Senate, which advanced a proposal that would have created a district in which black voters are a sizeable minority, in addition to another district in which they hold a majority. Senate Democrats had said a new minority “influence district” would ensure that the state’s congressional delegation was more likely to reflect the state’s demographics. Though almost 20 percent of Virginia’s population is black, only one of its members of Congress is African American.

Last week, a new GOP-led Senate voted 20-19 for the original House plan and the House passed it 74-21. Both votes were largely on party lines.

McDonnell spokesman Tucker Martin confirmed the governor signed the bill Tuesday night and sent it to the General Assembly on Wednesday.

States must redraw their legislative and congressional maps every 10 years in response to population shifts to ensure that each district contains about the same number of people and all state residents have equal representation in Congress.

A group of Virginia voters filed lawsuits in both state and federal court in November accusing the General Assembly of violating the state Constitution by failing to complete a redistricting plan in 2011.

On Wednesday, a circuit court judge determined that a lawsuit over congressional redistricting can continue.

But Brian Gottstein, a spokesman for Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R), said the court can only act if passing the redistricting bill was beyond the legislature's authority, which it was not.

“Given the impending elections and deadlines associated with the federal Voting Rights Act, my office is seeking immediate intervention by the Supreme Court of Virginia,” Cuccinelli said in a statement. “We are filing a writ of prohibition, seeking a ruling that the circuit court's ruling exceeds its jurisdiction. We are also seeking an immediate appeal of the order and a stay of further proceedings in the circuit court until the Virginia Supreme Court has ruled.”

The filing deadline to get on Virginia’s primary ballot is March 29, leaving relatively little time for the map to be set.

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