Justice Dept. approves Virginia’s congressional redistricting plan

The U.S. Department of Justice on Wednesday announced that it has approved Virginia’s new congressional map, even though some state Democrats say it dilutes the rights of minorities.

The announcement means Virginia’s primary for U.S. Senate and House will be held June 12, as scheduled, instead of postponing it until August.

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

The Republican-led General Assembly drew the lines. Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) signed the bill into law in January, but the state was waiting for federal approval.

The law needed approval from the U.S. Justice Department to ensure that it complies with the Voting Rights Act before it could take effect.

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

The House passed the same plan last year, but it was never taken up by the then 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.

But the new GOP-led Senate voted this year for the original House plan.

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. But the lawsuits were tossed.

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