Supreme Court upholds Virginia's new district maps undoing racial gerrymander
By Keya Vakil
June 17, 2019

The U.S. Supreme Court announced on Monday that it has dismissed the Virginia House of Delegates’ challenge to a lower court decision that found some of Virginia’s legislative districts were racially gerrymandered.

In a 5-4 ruling in Virginia House of Delegates v. Bethune-Hill, the Court found House Republicans did not have legal standing to challenge the decision and ruled that the state’s new district maps, which were in use for last week’s primaries, must continue to be used through the 2020 election.

Democrats argued that districts drawn in Virginia’s 2011 legislative map were illegal because they lumped black voters together, reducing the number of districts where their votes could have an impact.

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia agreed and ordered outside experts to draw a new map. That map updated a total of 26 districts.

With the Supreme Court upholding the new, non-partisan map, six Republican delegates now find themselves in districts that are now tougher to defend, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.

Indeed, 5 of those 6 districts now tilt more Democratic than Republican, and the sixth is virtually a toss-up.

The Court’s decision could give Democrats an edge in this year’s November elections, when all 140 seats in the General Assembly are up for grabs. Republicans currently hold two-seat margins in both the state House and Senate.

The decision could also have ramifications far beyond November. Whichever party wins in November will oversee Virginia’s next statewide redistricting effort following the 2020 census.

Voting rights groups were quick to praise the ruling.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the majority opinion, which stated that House Republican leaders could not challenge the court ruling because they did not represent the Commonwealth. Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring had declined to appeal the case and said only his office had standing to represent the state in such a case.

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

Justice Samuel Alito wrote the dissent and was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Stephen Breyer and Brett Kavanaugh.

This story has been updated to clarify the make-up of gerrymandered districts.

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Photo © Geoff Livingston

  • Keya Vakil

    Keya Vakil is the deputy political editor at COURIER. He previously worked as a researcher in the film industry and dabbled in the political world.

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