Three civil rights groups have asked the Justice Department to strike down the Virginia House of Delegates' latest redistricting plan on the grounds that it was artfully and intentionally drawn to dilute black voting strength.
At a press conference today, spokesmen for the American Civil Liberties Union released a compendium of quotes from House debates and private conversations that they said proved the legislators intended to discriminate on racial lines in six cities where there are substantial black populations. There are currently only five blacks in the 140-member General Assembly.
"The plan is racially gerrymandering," said Judy Goldberg, an ACLU lobbyist. "It assures that there will be no increase in black representation in the next ten years."
The ACLU was joined yesterday in challenging the redistricting plan by the Virginia chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. On Thursday, the state NAACP also filed an objection to the plan with the Justice Department.
The protests are the latest development in a year-long dispute over redistricting that has cost the state more than $1 million for special sessions and legal fees to a Richmond law firm to defend the plans in court. Of five different redistricting plans passed by the House, the first was rejected by the Justice Department, the second by a three-judge federal court, the third was vetoed by former Gov. John N. Dalton and the fourth was rejected by Dalton with amendments.
Virginia is one of 22 states required to under the 1965 Voting Rights Act to submit all changes in election districts for Justice review to ensure fair treatment of minorities.