SCOTUS orders Virginia to reexamine constitutionality of gerrymandered districts

In handing a victory to opponents of gerrymandering, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed a lower court ruling on Wednesday, returning the case to a Virginia district court demanding judges re-evaluate alleged racial bias.

The case revolves around a 2010 Virginia census, which prompted the creation of 12 new legislative districts in the Virginia House of Delegates.  The goal, supporters of the plan said, was to create districts with a black voting population of at least 55 percent in each.

In his majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the district court judges in Bethune-Hill v. Virginia State Board of Elections erred when weighing the basis for the drawing of district lines in the case.

Stating the court must consider the primary rationale for the creation of a district, Kennedy wrote:

“A state could construct a plethora of potential maps that look consistent with traditional, race-neutral principles.  But if race for its own sake is the overriding reason for choosing one map over others, race still may predominate.”

Five other justices concurred with Kennedy; Justices Alito and Thomas similarly concurred, but Thomas wrote a concurring opinion revealing all new districts in the case in front of the court were unconstitutional due to racial gerrymandering.

Celebrating the court’s decision, Anna Scholl, the executive director of Progress Virginia, said:

“Voters should choose their elected officials, not the other way around. When politicians draw districts that ensure they can’t lose, they rig the game for special interests and the wealthy few.  Politicians should not be allowed to use race or other political considerations to turn one election into lifetime tenure.”

Democratic Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe supported bringing the suit and through a spokesman said Wednesday’s outcome was a “victory for democracy in Virginia.”

“The governor has long believed that Virginia’s legislative lines are unconstitutionally racially gerrymandered,” said Brian Coy.

While the Supreme Court’s decision is a step in the right direction for critics of politically-motivated district lines, the ruling gives Virginia’s district court judges authority to decide whether other legislative districts must be redrawn and which can remain.

 

[Salon] [Washington Post] [AP] [Photo courtesy Salon]