In a 2-1 vote, a three judge federal court has rejected part of Virginia’s congressional redistricting as unconstitutional. The majority ruled that the redistricting involving a majority-minority district violated the equal protection clause as an unconstitutional racial gerrymander (a Shaw v. Reno type claim) because race was the predominant factor in redistricting. The state had defended its packing of minority voters into fewer districts to comply with Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act but the majority did not buy it. From the majority opinion:
For the reasons that follow, we find that Plaintiffs have shown race predominated. We find that the Third Congressional District cannot survive review under the exacting standard of strict scrutiny. While compliance with Section 5 was a compelling interest when the legislature acted, the redistricting plan was not narrowly tailored to further that interest. Accordingly, we are compelled to hold that the challenged Third Congressional District violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
The dissenting judge believed that political considerations, not race, predominated in the redistricting.
What happens next? As Think Progress notes, any new redistricting will have to be signed by the new Democratic governor.
If Virginia does appeal to the Supreme Court, I expect the case will be held for the Alabama redistricting cases, which raise virtually the same issue. (I will be covering this case for SCOTUSBlog.)