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Virginia court rejects challenge to 11 districts

RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia’s Supreme Court on Thursday rejected a challenge to the state’s 2011 redistricting process and found that 11 challenged state House and Senate districts are constitutionally valid.

The ruling came in a lawsuit brought by OneVirginia2021, a redistricting advocacy group that alleged lawmakers violated a state constitutional requirement that legislative districts be compact. The group argued that the current redistricting process focuses too heavily on protecting incumbents and helping political parties.

Last year, a Richmond Circuit Court judge rejected the challenge brought by OneVirginia2021.

The high court upheld that decision, agreeing with the judge’s finding that evidence presented at trial would “lead reasonable and objective people to differ” regarding the compactness of the districts.

The high court found the state constitution does not require that compactness be given priority over other considerations or establish a standard to determine whether the legislature gave proper priority to compactness.

“Thus, there is evidence to support the ruling that the determination of the General Assembly regarding compactness of the Challenged Districts is fairly debatable, and not clearly erroneous, arbitrary, or wholly unwarranted, and we must uphold the legislature’s decision to draw the Challenged Districts as it did,” the court found in a unanimous ruling written by Justice S. Bernard Goodwyn.

Greg Lucyk, president of OneVirginia2021’s board, said he was disappointed in the court’s decision.

“The whole purpose of compactness is to avoid districts that meander, that have tentacles that reach out to grab pieces of voting precincts,” Lucyk said.

“By drawing compact districts, that’s one tool we have to deter partisan gerrymandering,” he said.

Lucyk said the court’s ruling shows that the state constitution needs to be amended to provide clear standards for drawing legislative districts.

He said OneVirginia2021 could ask the court for a rehearing, but that decision has not been made yet.

The state attorney general’s office argued that the districts were compact. A spokesman for Attorney General Mark Herring did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

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