After a 100-mile bus ride and a two-hour meeting with Justic Department officials, leaders of Virginia's House of Delegates continued to insist yesterday that their redistricting plan, vetoed by Justice officials last week, does not discriminate against black voters.
"We asked them to reconsider," said Virginia's House Speaker A.L. Philpott. He was one of a 17-member delegation who argued with Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights William B. Reynolds that the House redistricting plan should pass Justice muster in time for scheduled statewide elections on Nov. 3. "They said it was discriminatory. We, of course, insisted it wasn't."
Justice officials agreed to reconsider the House plan, as required by the Voting Rights Act. But a Justice spokesman yesterday said it was unlikely that the orginal Virginia House plan would be approved without mofidications. Last Week Reynolds rejected that plan in a letter that said: "I am unable to conclude . . . that the submitted plan . . . is free of any racially discriminatory purpose or effect in the described areas."
The department held that lines drawn for six districts in southside Virginia, which include the state's largest concentration of black voters, diluted black voting strength. The city of Petersburg, for example, which has a 61 percent black population, was combined under the proposed plan with the predominantly white city of Colonial Heights to form a district with a 57 percent white majority.
Justice officials also vetoed Virginia's Senate redistricting plan two weeks ago, holding that it discriminated against black voters. But Senate elections are not scheduled until 1983.
The rejection of the House plan, along with eight lawsuits filed against the same plan in U.S. District Court in Richmond, threatens to disrupt scheduled Sept. 8 primaries for many of the House seats and could delay general elections now set for Nov. 3 for all the seats. The deadline for candidates wishing to file for those elections is Friday evening.
Because the Virginia Constitution requires that the governor be elected "at the time and place of choosing members of the General Assembly," there is concern that this fall's gubernatorial election might also be delayed.
"I don't think there it time between now and the Sept. 8 primary for the House of Delegates to enact a new plan," said Frank Parker, an attorney with the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which is one party to a suit against the House plan. Yesterday Parker, who is also representing Virginia's American Civil Liberties Union, sought an injunction in a federa court in Richmond to bar the state from implementing the House Plan.
"What we're asking the court to do is order into effect a single-member-district plan which was prepared by the ACLU," said Parker. His group has also objected to the House plan on grounds that population variations between proposed districts are so great they violate the Constitution's equal representation requirements.
Another meeting between Justice officials and Virginia represenatives was scheduled for this morning but Philpott was not optimistic.
"I know what their criteria are," said Philpott, walking back to the chartered bus outside the Justice Department. "What I'm not sure is whether we can meet that criteria."
Asked what he will tell potential candidates for General Assembly seats, Philpott answered. "That is what I've got to worry about Between here and Richmond."