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Federal court rejects racial gerrymandering in Virginia

Developments in Virginia are a reminder that gerrymandering is generating new scrutiny. Indeed, the Supreme Court may shake up the process even more.
Virginia Voters
Virginia residents wait in line in the pre-dawn hours to vote in the 2012 U.S. presidential election at Nottoway Park in Vienna, Va., on Nov. 6, 2012.
In the 2012 elections, nearly 4 million Virginians showed up to cast a ballot, and in U.S. House races, Republicans narrowly prevailed, receiving support from about 51% of the state's electorate. Virginia has 11 congressional districts, so it's easy to assume that the commonwealth's delegation would roughly match voters' will, perhaps with six Republican House members to Democrats' five.
Those assumptions, however, would be wrong. GOP House candidates may have earned 51% of the votes statewide, but they ended up with 8 of the 11 House seats (roughly 73%).
This happened, of course, because Virginia Republicans drew the district lines carefully to ensure these results. Yesterday, however, the GOP's map was rejected in a federal court. The Washington Post reported overnight:

A panel of federal judges on Tuesday declared Virginia's congressional maps unconstitutional because they concentrate African American voters into a single district at the expense of their influence elsewhere. The decision, handed down in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, orders the Virginia General Assembly to draw up new congressional maps by April -- potentially launching a frenzied and highly political battle for survival within Virginia's congressional delegation. The case can be appealed directly to the Supreme Court, an unusual legal quirk of the matter because it was decided by a three-judge panel, but whether that will happen remains unclear. Michael Kelly, a spokesman for Attorney General Mark R. Herring (D), said state lawyers were "reviewing the decision and assessing its impact and how best to move forward."

Note, this will not have any effect on this year's congressional races. State lawmakers are facing an April 2015 deadline, and with the possibility of an appeal, the process remains uncertain.
But the ruling in Virginia is a reminder that gerrymandering has become the subject of new scrutiny. Indeed, we learned earlier this week that the Supreme Court may shake up the process even more.
We'll talk about this case in more detail when oral arguments are set to begin, but there's a case out of Arizona that's well worth watching.

The Supreme Court said Thursday it will consider a challenge by Arizona Republicans to the state's congressional districting map. Arizona voters created an independent redistricting commission in 2000 in an effort to take politics out of the process. But the GOP-led state legislature complained in a lawsuit that the Constitution exclusively gives power to draw maps for congressional districts to elected state lawmakers.

Got that? The people of Arizona decided to forgo gerrymandering, instead choosing a process in which an independent commission draws district boundaries in a politically neutral way. The result is more competitive congressional races.
Republicans, who control much of state government and wanted to draw the lines to make uncompetitive races, are outraged and want the Supreme Court to throw out the system created by Arizona voters. These GOP officials have failed in the lower courts, but the justices announced this week that it will decide (a) whether these Arizona lawmakers have standing to bring the case; and (b) whether to throw out the voter-approved commission.
The result may very well reverberate nationwide.