FIRST the Justice Department rejected the redistricting plan proposed for the Virginia Senate. Now the Justice Department has rejected the redistricting plan proposed for the Virginia House of Delegates. This is, keep in mind, the Reagan Justice Department, not easily or often accused of bending over backward to accommodate pressures on civil rights questions. The grounds for rejection of the House and Senate plans were essentially that they discriminate against black voters in their effect. Respecting the House alone, the black voters of the city of Petersburg and five nearby counties were found to have been cut out of the political voice they otherwise would have had.

The Justice Department has been acting, of course, under the provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which is currently up for a 10-year extension in Congress. This has a direct bearing on the race for governor in Virginia. Would you not expect that both candidates would be eager to secure for all Virginians their full rights, including their voting rights? Would you not expect that both would be ready to support the extension of a law serving that purpose, a law the need for which is being demonstrated precisely by its current use to assure Virginians their rights?

Let us end the suspense. Republican J. Marshall Coleman and Democrat Charles S. Robb have been falling over themselves and each other to run away from the Voting Rights Act -- and from their responsibilities to the voters of Virginia. Mr. Coleman, who is currently state attorney general, is pained at the very suggestion that he had a part of the blame for the residtricting scandal that the Justice Department is pressing Virginia to remedy. Mr. Robb, the lieutenant governor, is doing his darnedest to have it both ways: he opposes extension but wants it known that he "shares the concern" of black Americans for the "symbolism" of the law.In the contest for flabbiness and shameful disregard of the public interest, these two gentlemen are running neck and neck.