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Expert advisor to assist Virginia court to reverse unconstitutional gerrymandering

Court-ordered redistricting to unpack 3rd Congressional District

The south portico of the Virginia State Capitol, in Richmond, VA, with the Senate, left, and House of Delegates (right) chambers. Photo taken Monday, April 23, 2007.
The south portico of the Virginia State Capitol, in Richmond, VA, with the Senate, left, and House of Delegates (right) chambers. Photo taken Monday, April 23, 2007.

Three judges from the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals have appointed Dr. Bernard Grofman, an economics and political science professor at the University of California, Irvine, to assist in redistricting Virginia’s 3rd Congressional District boundaries.

A federal court ruled in June that the 2012 boundaries of Virginia’s 3rd Congressional District were unconstitutional. The court said legislators unfairly combined too many black voters in Democrat Rep. Bobby Scott’s district, giving outsize advantage to incumbent Republicans in neighboring districts.

“We...recognize that individuals in the 3rd Congressional District whose constitutional rights have been injured by improper racial gerrymandering have suffered significant harm,” the majority opinion of the court said.

The court ordered the General Assembly to redistrict, but the legislative body could not reach a consensus by the court-ordered deadline of Sept. 1. Instead, three federal judges will conduct the reassessment with the help of Grofman.

Grofman will be charged with drawing up proposed congressional maps and offering modifications to proposals submitted by lawmakers, Judge Albert Diaz of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals said in a notification to legislators.

“The court expects that Dr. Grofman will review the redistricting plans and briefs submitted in response to the Court’s orders and recommend to the Court whether to accept a proposed plan, or a modified version of one,” Diaz said.

Grofman’s role as a mediator will allow an overall greater number of proposals to be received and reviewed, Michael Kelly, spokesman for Attorney General Mark Herring, said.

“The court accepted the Commonwealth’s recommendations to appoint an independent special master and to open the process to interested groups and parties who wish to provide input,” Kelly said.

Grofman is broadly seen as an authority on redistricting, Charles Kromkowski, University research data librarian and a member of the Politics faculty, said.

“Prof. Bernard Grofman is a widely recognized redistricting expect, and he has an extensive scholarly record on the topic of redistricting,” Kromkowski said.

However, Grofman and others will face several challenges in redistricting, he said. Grofman and the court will be working with outdated 2010 census information, will have to make costly precinct splits while redrawing districts and will also need to reduce the number of African-Americans in the 3rd district, as ordered by the court.

The overall outlook for the 3rd District is currently ambiguous, Geoffrey Skelley, media relations coordinator for the University of Virginia Center for Politics, said.

“Courts don’t spend a lot of time drawing Congressional maps, so they look to experts who deal with specifically the legal aspect of redistricting in general,” he said. “It’s unclear how far they will go. It’s really difficult to say what this map will look like.”

Any changes made to the 3rd District will ultimately have impacts on the extent of neighboring districts, Skelley said.

“By moving the lines around the 3rd District, to some extent that will cause a cascade of dominoes that effects the lines of other districts,” he said. “The one thing we can know for sure is that the current 3rd District will change in some way.”

The proposed congressional maps will be posted on the state’s website for the public to view.

Grofman declined to comment for this article.