Bethune-Hill v. Virginia State Board of Elections

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At a Glance

In the wake of the 2010 census, the Virginia General Assembly redrew the legislative districts for the Virginia House of Delegates and the Senate of Virginia. The General Assembly purposely drew 12 districts to each have a set majority population of minorities — specifically, an African American voting age population that met or exceeded a pre-determined 55 percent threshold. In so doing, the Virginia legislature did not consider whether such a high concentration of minorities in those districts was necessary to enable minority voters to elect candidates of their choice in those districts or, instead, merely diminished minority voters’ impact elsewhere in the state.

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The Latest

On November 13, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to review a challenge to Virginia’s state legislative districting plan. 

The case is going back to the Supreme Court on appeal from a federal three-judge panel’s June 26 ruling that the Virginia General Assembly unlawfully drew state legislative districts to have an African American voting age...

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About this Case

About the Case

In the wake of the 2010 census, the Virginia General Assembly redrew the legislative districts for the Virginia House of Delegates and the Senate of Virginia. The General Assembly purposely drew 12 districts to each have a set majority population of minorities — specifically, an African American voting age population that met or exceeded a pre-determined 55 percent threshold. In so doing, the Virginia legislature did not consider whether such a high concentration of minorities in those districts was necessary to enable minority voters to elect candidates of their choice in those districts or, instead, merely diminished minority voters’ impact elsewhere in the state.

Virginia citizens and voters residing in the districts brought this challenge to Virginia’s 12 majority-minority districts as unlawful gerrymanders that improperly sorted voters primarily based on their race.

What’s At Stake

Adoption of the district court’s earlier standard would have dangerous consequences for racial gerrymandering cases. Under that standard, state legislatures that unconstitutionally sort people solely by race in drawing districts would be insulated from legal challenges, so long as the legislatures draw the districts neatly enough. In other words, race-based drawing of districts would be excused where it superficially conforms to other neutral criteria.

Moreover, race-based drawing of districts would also be excused wherever the racial sorting coincides with partisan benefits. Given the close intersection of race and politics, this rule would practically render racial gerrymandering challenges a nullity.

When the Supreme Court last considered this case, the Campaign Legal Center submitted a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the Virginia citizens and voters who challenged Virginia’s racial gerrymander. The League of Women Voters, the Voting Rights Institute, the National Council of Jewish Women and the Racial Justice Project at New York Law School also signed on to the brief.

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