ACLU claims lower court did not completely review voting patterns and misconstrued contiguityThe ACLU of Virginia today filed a friend of the court brief with the Virginia Supreme Court, arguing that a lower court judge did not properly analyze voting data before ruling that some Senate and House districts are illegally "packed" with too many minority voters.
The ACLU brief also claims that the lower court erred when it ruled that districts split by water violate the state law requiring election districts to be contiguous. There are no exact rules on contiguity, but Virginia has traditionally allowed districts to be split by water, making the drawing of districts in the river rich Tidewater region simpler and giving the state more flexibility to comply with voting laws that require equal treatment for minority voters.
The brief does not take sides in the case in which Virginia's Democrats challenged the state redistricting plan adopted by Republican legislators last year, but asks that the case be remanded to the lower court judge for reconsideration.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibits voting districts that create artificially high concentrations of minority voters in one district in order to weaken minority voting strength in another district. The process is called "packing."
"We do not know if the lower court judge came to the right conclusion regarding packing," said ACLU of Virginia executive director, "but we are certain that he did not do a thorough analysis of the voting patterns as required by law. "
"You cannot conclude that a district is packed just because it has a certain percentage of minority voters, and minority candidates tend to get easily elected," added Willis. "We would like the Supreme Court to ask the judge to go back and evaluate all the voting patterns in each district before ruling that packing occurred."
"As for the definition of contiguity, if the Supreme Court allows the lower court decision to stand, Virginia, with all its waterways, will face a redistricting a nightmare in the Tidewater area. It is also quite likely that such a restrictive definition of contiguity could become an excuse for diluting minority voting strength in the future."
The brief was prepared by Neil Bradley and Laughlin McDonald of the Southern Regional ACLU, with assistance from ACLU of Virginia legal director Rebecca Glenberg.
Contact: Kent Willis, Executive Director, ACLU of Virginia, 804-644-8022