Virginia Redistricting Case Plays Out Dramatically In Federal Court

Virginia Redistricting Case Plays Out Dramatically In Federal Court


At the U.S. District Courthouse in Alexandria, Va., the redistricting case before a three judge panel between a Democratic law firm and Virginia’s Republicans, who strategized to pack as many Blacks in as few state and congressional districts as possible in 2011, entered its third day.  

Sitting in court would make you see why there’s a complete ban on members of the public having electronic devices at the federal courthouse and no press office (or officer), along with several other policies that ensure no one can find out what’s going on in court quickly — in a clear violation of the first amendment: If people knew what was going on real time, there would be protesters outside the courthouse.

All of Wednesday was spent with Republican Del. Chris Jones of Suffolk, Va., the chief GOP architect of Virginia’s state districting maps, on the stand telling everyone how complex but fantastic his redistricting proposals were and how exactly he arrived at certain maps.  Del. Jones’ appearance featured him making the point over and over that several Black lawmakers in Virginia, such as Del. Lionell Spruill and former Delegate Onzlee Ware, were just fine with the Republican redistricting maps. 

Del. Jones also swerved out of his way to point out on the stand that then-Delegate/now-Senator Ken Alexander requested that his district be drawn in such a way to ensure that one of the two funeral homes he owns remained in his district.  The clear Republican strategy to say, “Black Virginia politicians were fine with these maps” was never-ending.

The over arching point of Del. Jones’ testimony was that Black voters in Virginia were packed in as few districts as possible because of “partisan politics” and the constraints of declining population in Virginia’s Black communities.   They just had to do it that way.  And it was just another one of those amazing coincidences that several of the Black districts drawn had over 55 percent of Black voting age residents.  It was all just population related Jones said, even as the court displayed a ridiculous looking map of Virginia’s 95th House district, now held by retiring Del. Mamye BaCote, which geographically skips over white residents and jumps rivers, streams and highways to include black ones. 

Virginia’s 5th congressional district. Republican congressman Robert Hurt’s compact and contiguous district? Sure.

It had long been known that the redistricting case would find itself before judges in a federal court. Why? Because the drawing of Virginia’s congressional and state maps is so utterly ridiculous that someone would have to sue. Virginia is 20 percent African American yet there are only 12 African Americans of 100 legislators.  In the Virginia Senate there are 5 Senators out of 40 — 12 percent.   In Congress where Virginia should have two Black congressmen, there is only one out of 11.

Turns out that the “someone” who decided to sue was the national Democratic Party in the form of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.  The DCCC’s law firm, Perkins Coie, featured two of the very few African American attorneys on Perkins Coie’s staff — counsels Bruce Spiva and Aria Branch — in court yesterday.

A bad aspect for Democrats during he redistricting court proceedings was that one of the three Judges on the panel, Robert Payne, a George H.W. Bush appointee who wrote the dissent in the decision over Blacks being packed in Virginia’s third congressional district, is clearly playing on the red team.  During Wednesday’s proceedings, Judge Payne spent a great deal of time admonishing in some way or another, the Democrat’s attorney Bruce Spiva.  Payne didn’t like Spiva’s arguments, his line of questioning, the length of time he talked… you name it.  I would expect in court today that Judge Payne might critique Spiva’s necktie or maybe his fashionable Malcolm X style glasses — who knows.  Court ended on Wednesday with Judge Payne delivering one final criticism of Spiva talking to long or whatever. Who knows what broadside Payne will deliver on counsel Spiva today.  

A second Judge on the panel, Judge Gerald Lee, a Black Clinton appointee, asked a few basic questions and that was that. The panel’s third Judge, a woman, whose name I don’t know yet because everything about this is a big ding dong secret, said nothing on Wednesday, asking no questions.

All focus is in the case is on Black districts in Hampton Roads and Richmond, specifically the 95th and 92nd districts.  Other districts named in the case are: 63, 69, 70, 71, 74, 75, 77, 80, 89 and 90.