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Judge upholds 11 Virginia legislative districts

March 31, 2017

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A Richmond judge upheld 11 Virginia House and Senate districts on Friday that challengers claimed violated the state’s constitution.

Richmond Circuit Court Judge W. Reilly Marchant ruled against OneVirginia2021, a redistricting advocacy group that argued that during redistricting in 2011, lawmakers ignored the requirement that election districts must be compact.

In his decision, Marchant said the constitutionality of the map is “fairly debatable,” in which case he had to uphold the lawmakers’ action.

Virginia’s Republican House Speaker praised the decision, and said lawmakers are prepared to defend the map again if the case is appealed.

“The facts of this case speak for themselves. The districts were compact, consistent with Virginia Supreme Court precedent, and the process to draw compact districts in 2011 was sound,” William Howell said in a statement. “It is my hope that the plaintiffs will accept this ruling and not continue to waste taxpayer dollars by forcing the Commonwealth to defend unnecessary appeals.”

Wyatt Durrette, an attorney for VirginiaOne2021, said in a statement that an appeal is “most likely.”

Durette said redistricting-reform advocates are disappointed that Marchant didn’t rule in their favor. But he said the judge’s decision gives them “significant help in continuing this battle,” noting among other things that Marchant found the group’s proposed test for measuring whether a district is constitutionally compact worth “serious consideration.”

Another lawsuit challenging the 2011 lines is pending in federal court.

That lawsuit accuses lawmakers of illegally packing black voters into certain districts to make surrounding districts whiter and more Republican. Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court tossed out a ruling in that case that upheld 11 different districts and ordered the lower court to re-examine the boundaries.

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe has asked Republican lawmakers to drop their legal defense of those district lines in light of the Supreme Court ruling. But Republicans have pledged to continue defending the map in court.

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Follow Alanna Durkin Richer at http://twitter.com/aedurkinricher. Read more of her work at http://bigstory.ap.org/journalist/alanna-durkin-richer .

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