The Supreme Court gave redistricting reform advocates, and by extension Democrats, a big win this morning when it unanimously rejected a challenge by Virginia Republicans to a court ordered map drawn by a three judge that drastically altered the state’s 3rd and 4th District, and marginally changed the 1st, 2nd, and 7th.
Virginia’s new map came about after the same three-judge panel twice ruled that the district maps drawn by the state’s republican majority before the 2012 election was unconstitutional because it was predominantly motivated by racial considerations.
New congressional districts are drawn after each decennial census is conducted. Also known as gerrymandering, the redrawing of new districts is typically done by state legislatures, which gives the party in control of these states the power to draw boundary lines that will maximize and solidify their majorities in Congress and on the state level.
The current district maps we use were drawn after the 2010 census in the wake of the GOP wave that not only put Republicans in control of the House of Representatives, but gave them complete control of several state legislatures and Governors Mansions as well.
This is one of the reasons why despite winning over a million more House votes nationwide, Democrats were only able to make minimum gains in the House in the 2012 presidential election. It is one of the reasons why Republicans won eight of the 11 house seats in the Virginia that year, even though Obama won the state by more than 115,000 votes.
In Virginia’s case, Republicans redrew the map to pack African American voters into the state’s 3rd District, held by Bobby Scott (D), thereby decreasing their influence in surrounding districts.
You can compare the two maps below:
District Boundaries after 2010
Photo Credit: Richmond Times Dispatch
New District Boundaries
Photo Credit: DailyKos
Under the new map, the voting age population of African American’s in the 3rd District will fall from 56.3% down to 45.5%. This will significantly alter the state’s 4th District by increasing its African American voting age population from 31.3% to 40.9%. Much of this is due to Richmond and Petersburg both moving from the 3rd District into the 4th.
Richmond and Petersburg are independent cities in Virginia and are heavily democratic areas. In 2012, President Obama beat Mitt Romney in Richmond City 77.8% (75,921 votes) to 20.5% (20,050 votes). In Petersburg he defeated Romney 89.8% (14,253 votes) to 9.6% (1,527 votes.).
Under the 2012 map, President Obama received 48% of the vote in the 4th District. If the new map had been in effect in 2012, he would have received over 60% of the vote in the district.
As a result of the Supreme Court’s ruling, Democrats are very likely to pick up the district’s House seat in November. It is currently represented by J. Randy Forbes (R) but is an open seat this year with Forbes instead running for the open seat in CD2, a swing district where Democrats may have blown a pick-up opportunity.
A growing number of challenges to partisan gerrymandering are making their way through the court system, and a number of states – Arizona, California, Hawaii, Montana, New Jersey, Idaho, and Washington – are putting the job of redistricting in the hands of independent commissions.
These commissions were challenged but the Supreme Court ruled they were constitutional.
Earlier this year, a federal court said the district maps drawn in North Carolina by the state’s GOP were unconstitutional because, like in Virginia, the boundaries were drawn to pack African American voters into as few districts as possible. There is also a case in front of a three judge panel pertaining to the district boundaries drawn by Maryland Democrats in 2011.
This issue is starting to gain some traction across the country and advocates for reform have notched some important victories as a result. Today’s ruling by the court added one more to the win column.