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 population that met or exceeded a pre-determined 55 percent threshold in each district.
The lower court’s ruling in June concluded that the map drawers had predominantly focused on race when drawing the districts and that the legislature had not shown that its use of race was narrowly tailored to comply with Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. As a result, the three-judge panel declared the 11 districts to be unconstitutionally gerrymandered.
The named defendants chose not to appeal the lower court's decision. Although not named as defendants in the original case, the Virginia House of Delegates and the Speaker of the House filed the ongoing appeal on September 4.
In response, the named defendants have moved to dismiss the case on the grounds that the Virginia House of Delegates and the Speaker of the House do not have standing to appeal the lower court’s ruling.
The plaintiffs, a group of Virginia voters who started the case, have also moved to dismiss the appeal for lack of standing. The group of voters has also asked the Court to summarily affirm the lower court’s ruling if it chooses not to dismiss the appeal.
In agreeing to review the case, the Supreme Court has asked the parties to brief whether the Virginia House of Delegates and the Speaker of the House have standing to bring the appeal. The Court will consider this issue alongside the merits of the case when it is heard next spring.
The lower court’s June decision followed a remand from the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in March 2017 that the lower court needed to take a second look at 11 state house districts to determine whether they were unconstitutional racial gerrymanders (Bethune-Hill I). Campaign Legal Center filed a friend-of-the-court brief in Bethune-Hill I in support of the Virginia voters who challenged the racial gerrymander.