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Justices likely to reject GOP appeal over Virginia districts

By MARK SHERMAN
Created: 03/21/2016 3:21 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court signaled Monday it probably will reject a Republican appeal over congressional districts in Virginia.

The court's liberal justices sounded skeptical about a challenge brought by Republican members of Congress who want the Supreme Court to reinstate a districting map that a lower court had tossed out.

The lower court said Virginia illegally packed black voters into one district to make adjacent districts safer for Republican incumbents.

A 4-4 tie would uphold the lower court ruling.

Lawyer Michael Carvin, representing the congressional Republicans, said the court ruling was wrong because the legislature was trying to protect incumbents, not dilute black voting strength.

The dispute concerns the old boundaries of Virginia's 3rd Congressional District, which is the only one in the state with a majority of African-American residents. Represented by Democrat Bobby Scott, the district ran from north of Richmond to the coastal cities of Norfolk and Newport News, and its shape has been described as a "grasping claw."

Scott's seat is one of 11 congressional districts in Virginia. Republicans who controlled the state Legislature when the new map was drawn in 2012 created districts that elected eight Republicans and three Democrats. At the same time, Democrats carried Virginia in the past two presidential elections and hold both Senate seats and the governor's office.

The lower court has since drawn a new congressional map, in which Scott's district is more compact and no longer includes Richmond, for use in this year's elections. Even before Scalia's death, Republicans failed to persuade the Supreme Court to delay the use of the new map while the case is under appeal.

Republican House members want to preserve the map as it was adopted because they fear that a redrawn map could water down minority strength in Scott's district and increase the number of Democratic-leaning black voters in neighboring Republican districts.

The justices also are weighing whether the Republicans even have the right to bring their case after the state declined to continue defending the original congressional map.

The new map has made it impossible for at least one incumbent, Rep. Randy Forbes, to run for re-election in the district he has represented for 16 years, Carvin said. "The injury is so severe that it forced him out of his district," he said.

But Marc Elias, representing voters who originally sued over the map, said, "Voters choose candidates. They choose their elected officials. It's not the other way around."

A decision in Wittman v. Personhuballah, 14-1504, is expected by late June.

(Copyright 2016 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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