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Policy: Law

Va. redistricting trial begins in federal court

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Politics,Local,Virginia,Law,Federal Courts

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Lawyers sparred Wednesday in federal court over whether race or politics were the main drivers in drawing the state's 3rd Congressional District, as trial began in a lawsuit accusing the Virginia General Assembly of "racial gerrymandering."

The Richmond Times-Dispatch (http://bit.ly/1m6JU28) reports plaintiffs' attorneys allege that the Legislature packed African-American voters into Virginia's only black majority congressional district. They say that made neighboring districts safer for Republicans.

"Race, not politics, was the motive, (and) the defendants cannot show any evidence that the Voting Rights Act required them to increase the black voting bloc. There is no evidence for a political quota," Kevin Hamilton, an attorney for the plaintiffs, told a panel headed by Judge Robert E. Payne of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.

Lawyers for the defense said the 2012 redistricting plan that boosted the number of black voters in the district was not racially motivated but represented "incumbent protection" and was purely political.

"It is clear that the plan benefited Republicans in adjacent districts. It cannot possibly be that race, rather than politics, was the predominant factor," said Michael Carvin. He is counsel for eight Republican members of Virginia's congressional delegation who are co-defendants.

Democratic Rep. Robert C. "Bobby" Scott has represented the 3rd for more than 20 years. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of three voters in the district, which includes parts of Richmond, Petersburg, Portsmouth, Newport News and Norfolk.

The newspaper reported that lawyers cross-examined witnesses for both sides.

Michael P. McDonald, a professor of government and politics at George Mason University, testified that he found race was "a predominant factor" in the plan.

However, John Morgan, a demographer and redistricting expert, concluded that the plan "does not use race as a factor"

Court is scheduled to reconvene Thursday.

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