(Washington, D.C.) – Virginia must do more to protect fair representation for Black voters in their new statewide redistricting maps, according to a public comment submitted to the Supreme Court of Virginia on Friday by the Virginia State Conference of the NAACP, represented by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the law firm Hogan Lovells US LLP, together with the Office of the General Counsel of the NAACP.
The comment details the ongoing effects and history of racial discrimination and application of federal and state law to redistricting in Virginia, and provides analysis and recommendations on the newly-released draft maps while proposing alternative district lines that better preserve Black communities of interest in a manner that complies with the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and Virginia’s Constitution and laws.
“Black Virginians have a right to fair representation, which means map-drawers must consider the continuing effects of Virginia’s history of racial discrimination when drawing new district lines,” said Damon Hewitt, president and executive director with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “Federal and state law make clear that districts must be drawn so as to ensure that Black voters are provided an equal opportunity to participate in the political process of the Commonwealth. We commend the seriousness with which the Special Masters have approached their important task thus far, and trust that they will listen to feedback from these communities and set an equitable standard for other states in our nation.”
First versions of the new maps for Virginia’s General Assembly and US congressional delegation were released last week by two court-appointed mapping experts called special masters, who were tasked with drawing the maps after the Virginia Redistricting Commission failed to reach consensus on any maps. The special masters held a public hearing on Wednesday and will hold another hearing Friday before making revisions to the new maps, and have asked specifically for the public to address the maps’ effect on communities of interest, which include Black communities and other communities of color.
Virginia NAACP President Robert Barnette will offer oral comment at Friday’s hearing, highlighting this written comment and submission of proposed maps, which were generated in collaboration and consultation with local branch leaders and community members.
“As the Special Masters have made clear, the new maps must be drawn to respect communities of interest, and this means community members must be heard,” said Robert Barnette, president of the Virginia State Conference of the NAACP. “Our proposed maps are representative of the Black communities of interest in these districts because they were drawn with extensive input from community members. We trust that the Special Masters will recognize the importance of this public comment and adjust their maps to uphold fair representation for Black Virginians.”
Virginia’s Black voters deserve fair and equal representation, especially as the state makes significant advances in enacting fairer, more equitable public policies. In 2021 alone, Virginia abolished the death penalty, declared racism a public health crisis, and became the first state in the U.S. South to pass a Voting Rights Act, expanding voter protections for Virginians of color and making it easier to access the ballot in all communities.
View the comment and maps here.
View the maps proposed by the Special Masters here.
About the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law – The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee), a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination. The principal mission of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice for all, particularly in the areas of voting rights, criminal justice, fair housing and community development, economic justice, educational opportunities, and hate crimes.