The Justice Department issued no objections to Virginia's congressional redistricting plan in a letter released Wednesday, granting the necessary Voting Rights Act "preclearance" and all but ensuring that the state's new Republican-drawn map will take effect over Democrats' objections.
The one-page memo caps a disappointing round of preclearance decisions for many African-Americans in the South, as well as for congressional Democrats, both of whom were seeking to expand their numbers this year. At the outset of 2011, both groups had hoped the first ever Democratically appointed Justice Department to preside over a redistricting cycle would block GOP legislatures' efforts to "pack" black voters into as few seats as possible.
In Virginia, Democrats in the state Senate had proposed breaking up the majority-black Tidewater 3rd District into two separate districts. But when Republicans took control of the state Senate in last November's elections, they passed a plan packing even more black voters into the 3rd, shoring up four neighboring GOP-held seats. In late February, a circuit court in Richmond threw out a Democratically backed lawsuit challenging the map on the grounds that Republicans had missed the state's 2011 redistricting deadline.
Justice has demonstrated a laissez-faire approach to GOP-friendly redistricting in much of the Deep South. While advocates had pointed out that additional African-American majority seats could have been drawn in Alabama, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Virginia, GOP-dominated legislatures in those states chose not to add any, maximizing Republican-heavy seats instead. In each state, Justice signed off on the Republican plans.
The one state in which the department has objected to a state's new congressional boundaries is Texas, where it objected to the GOP legislature's failure to add more Latino majority seats.
Texas is among just three states with plans still awaiting preclearance.