Members of the Virginia House of Delegates said today they have been summoned to Washington to respond to charges that their latest reapportionment plan discriminates against black voters in five Virginia cities.
Delegates from Newport News, Hampton, Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Chesapeake will meet with Justice Department officials Friday afternoon in an effort to refute complaints by the American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP. Both organizations have asked Justice to reject the reapportionment plan under the Voting Rights Act, charging that the House members intentionally redrew the lines of their own districts in such a way as to dilute black voting strength.
The plan is the fifth approved by the legislature in response to population changes shown in the 1980 Census. An earlier House plan was declared unconstitutional by a three-judge federal court in August.
Members of the House, who battled for almost a year before agreeing on the current plan, acknowledge that they drew the proposed districts to satisfy the court's orders and to preserve the seats of incumbents. They reject suggestions that the plan was racially motivated.
"I think they'll find that there may have been a lot of other shenanigans going on down here, but there hasn't been any racially discriminatory intent," said Del. Vincent F. Callahan (R-Fairfax), a member of the panel that drew the plan.
The ACLU argues that the House has diluted black voting strength by placing contiguous black precincts in different House districts. In the Hampton-Newport News area, the complaint alleges, the legislature split up one black area among four House districts, assuring that none would have a black majority.
"The fact that the Justice Department is questioning delegates from the areas we complained about is very encouraging," said Judy Goldberg of the ACLU. "I don't believe there exists an adequate non-racial reason for the way they drew those lines."