A federal court on Thursday approved new district boundaries for the Virginia House of Delegates that were drawn by a court-appointed expert and are likely to benefit Democrats in November’s state election.
The U.S. District Court for Eastern District of Virginia voted 2 to 1 to finalize the map, which would put six Republicans into districts that would probably become majority Democratic, according to an analysis of recent elections by the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project. Several of those Republicans hold leadership positions — including House Speaker Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights).
Federal judges ruled last year that 11 of Virginia’s House of Delegates districts in the Richmond and Hampton Roads areas were racially gerrymandered — designed to concentrate black voters and deprive them of representation. After the General Assembly failed to agree on a redistricting plan last fall, the judges appointed Bernard Grofman, a professor at the University of California at Irvine, to draw new boundaries.
Republicans hold slim majorities in the Senate — at 21 to 19 — and the House, which is split 51 to 48 with one seat open for a special election in a district previously held by a Democrat.
Meanwhile, Cox appealed the redistricting to the U.S. Supreme Court, which agreed to take the case but has opted to allow Grofman’s new plan to move ahead.
And on another front, GOP leaders in the legislature are promoting a plan to establish a bipartisan redistricting commission, aiming to change the process of drawing legislative boundaries even as their challenge before the Supreme Court is pending.
The Republican plan would amend the state constitution to set up a 12-member commission appointed mostly by the legislature.
Currently, the General Assembly draws the lines, so whichever party is in power has enormous sway over shaping future elections.