By Kurtis Lee
The boundaries of a congressional district drawn by Virginia's Republican-controlled Legislature were struck down by a federal court Tuesday in a case that involved accusations of racial gerrymandering for partisan advantage.
In its ruling, the court concluded that the boundaries of Virginia's 3rd Congressional District were unconstitutional because they concentrated black voters into a single district. It ordered the Legislature to redraw the district by April.
The plaintiffs in the case said the boundaries made adjacent districts safe for Republicans by keeping them largely white, while concentrating black voters -- who typically vote Democratic -- in the 3rd District.
"Race was the Legislature's paramount concern," wrote the court in siding with the plaintiffs in a 100-page ruling.
Virginia GOP House Speaker Bill Howell declined to comment after the ruling.
The court said the district's boundaries were drawn based on race and were in clear violation of the Equal Protection Clause in the 14th Amendment.
Rep. Robert C. Scott, a Democrat and the state's lone African American congressman, represents the 3rd District, which includes Newport News and Norfolk. It is more than 50% black.
"I hope and expect the General Assembly will more equitably and appropriately balance the influence of all Virginia's voters, as mandated by this decision," he said in a statement.
In Virginia, Republicans control eight of the state's 11 congressional seats. During the redrawing of districts in 2012, the GOP-controlled Legislature rejected a proposal that would have made another congressional district predominately black.
The ruling comes after a court decision in Florida this year in which its Republican Legislature was ordered to redraw congressional maps after Democrats filed suit. The case is being appealed to the state's Supreme Court.
Democratic Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe said Tuesday that the ruling "demonstrates the need to get partisan politics out of how Virginia draws its legislative boundaries."
"The court's order to redraw our congressional map is an opportunity to emerge with a map that reflects the best interests of Virginia families, not the political interests of the people drawing the lines," McAuliffe said.
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