Virginia Election to Proceed With Redrawn District

June 17, 2019 by Dan McCue

WASHINGTON – Voters in Virginia will elect members of the state’s House of Delegates in districts drawn on a map considered to be favorable to Democrats, a divided U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday.

The 5-4 ruling comes in a case brought by black voters in Virginia who accused Republicans of packing them into certain districts when they redrew the district map after the last census to ensure that other districts were whiter and more Republican.

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, a Democrat, called the ruling a “big win for democracy in Virginia.”

“It’s unfortunate that House Republicans wasted millions of taxpayer dollars and months of litigation in a futile effort to protect racially gerrymandered districts, but the good news is that this fall’s elections will take place in constitutionally drawn districts,” he said in a statement.

The voters challenged a total of 11 districts for the state’s House of Delegates, which were drawn after the 2010 census, and each of which had a population that was at least 55 percent black.

The Supreme Court has long maintained that race can’t be the leading factor in the creation of state districts. The justices first took on the case in 2015, but sent it back down to a lower court for reconsideration.

The lower court ruled 2-1 last year that the previous, legislative-crafted map improperly factored race into the drawing of 11 of the 100 House districts. After lawmakers were unable to reach an agreement on a redistricting plan, the lower court chose a new map from a series of proposals submitted by a special master.

The justices still have two high-profile gerrymandering cases, from Maryland and North Carolina, to decide before the end of the term, both dealing with legislative districts drawn for purely partisan reasons.

Although racial discrimination was at the heart of the case decided Monday, the political implications are undeniable and the ruling could foreshadow the court’s thinking in the partisan gerrymander cases.

In this case, the justices let stand a lower court decision putting a new map in place, holding that state House Republicans did not have standing to appeal the case to the Supreme Court.

“In short, Virginia would rather stop than fight on. One house of its bicameral legislature cannot alone continue the litigation against the will of its partners in the legislative process,” wrote Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

She was joined in the majority by justices Elena Kagan, Neil Gorsuch, Sonia Sotomayor and Clarence Thomas.

As a result of the map struck down by Monday’s ruling Republicans currently control the Virginia House of Delegates by a 51-49 margin.

In a written statement, former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, chairman of the non-profit National Redistricting Foundation, said “Today’s ruling from the Supreme Court is an important victory for African Americans in Virginia who have been forced since 2011 to vote in racially gerrymandered districts that unfairly diluted their voting power.

“With a new, fair map in place, all Virginians will now – finally – have the opportunity this fall to elect a House of Delegates that actually represents the will of the people,” Holder said.

The new map was used in Virginia’s primary election last week and it will be used just one more time, in this November’s general election. The Legislative districts will be redrawn again following the 2020 census.

The case is VA House of Delegates v. Bethune-Hill, 18-281.

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