SCOTUS Rules in Virginia House of Delegates v. Bethune-Hill

On Monday the Supreme Court of the United States ruled on gerrymandering in Virginia. Amy Howe with SCOTUSblog summarized:

Last week Virginia held its primary election for the state’s House of Delegates. It used a new map, which had been drawn with the help of a court-appointed expert after a federal court threw out the old one. The lower court ruled that 11 districts were the product of unconstitutional racial gerrymandering – that is, the legislators who drew the districts relied too heavily on race. Today a divided Supreme Court left that decision in place, ruling that the state’s legislature did not have a legal right – known as “standing” – to appeal the district court’s decision to the Supreme Court. The decision means that the state’s general election in November will likely go forward using the same new map.

Ms. Howe continued:

The lawsuit that led to today’s decision was filed five years ago by residents of 12 different legislative districts in Virginia. They argued that by creating districts in which 55 percent of the voters were African-American, the legislature had diluted the strength of African-American voters in neighboring districts, giving Republicans an advantage there. A federal district court rejected the residents’ argument, but the Supreme Court sent the case back for the lower court to take another look at 11 of the 12 districts.

Read her complete overview of Monday’s decision (see Opinion analysis: Court throws out legislators’ appeal in racial-gerrymandering case).

Brian Cannon, executive director of OneVirginia2021, the group that believes voters should pick their legislators, not the other way around, wrote about this issue in Bearing Drift in March 2019. As the U.S. Supreme Court was poised to take up the case (see On Gerrymandering, Supreme Court Set to Hear Arguments on ‘Viewpoint Discrimination’), Cannon wrote:

Can our government treat us differently based on which political party we belong to? That’s the question on the docket for SCOTUS next week.

For anyone following the redistricting reform movement in Virginia or nationwide, Tuesday, March 26, is a crucial date to watch at the U.S. Supreme Court. OneVirginia2021 will be there, rallying beside our colleagues from Maryland and North Carolina as they await the court’s ruling on their respective cases. We also filed an amicus brief in support of the reform sides in both the Maryland and North Carolina cases.

Cannon responded Monday following SCOTUS’ dismissal of Virginia House of Delegates v. Bethune-Hill with the following statement:

“This ruling underscores what we’ve been saying since 2011: Virginia’s current redistricting process is broken. Fortunately, Virginia is poised to correct that by putting an end to gerrymandering.

“As Speaker Cox correctly noted, the maps in the Bethune-Hill case were passed in 2011 with an overwhelming majority of support from both parties. But judges from across the ideological spectrum have ruled that these districts are unconstitutional because they were gerrymandered on the basis of race.

“For too long, Virginia has had a history of discriminating against minority communities, and closing this chapter on the 2011 redistricting is an important step towards more equitable districts.  Virginians deserve better than a decade of expensive litigation and four election cycles using unconstitutional districts.

“Looking forward, our organization knows that fair districts can be drawn only by a transparent redistricting commission with citizen input.

“In February, the General Assembly moved a redistricting reform constitutional amendment through both chambers with broad bipartisan support — the most significant legislation of its kind to ever pass a state legislature. It needs to be passed again by the 2020 General Assembly and approved by the voters that November.

“It’s time to end gerrymandering and the Commonwealth of Virginia is poised to do that next year.”

Virginia House of Delegates Speaker Kirk Cox released the following statement on the ruling:

“Naturally, we are disappointed by the Supreme Court’s decision to reject our standing to appeal this case, which could have wholly been prevented had the Attorney General not once again declined to do his job and defend the law of the Commonwealth.

“The Court’s opinion today ends a disappointing saga of orchestrated attacks against the constitutionally-enacted redistricting plan. A shadowy organization funded by out-of-state interests has cost the taxpayers millions to overturn a legislative map that passed in 2011 that passed with an overwhelming majority.

“Unfortunately, the Court’s decision to not decide the merits of this case leaves a number of unanswered questions just two years before the next redistricting cycle. This could have been prevented if Attorney General Herring would have defended the law of the Commonwealth and allowed the Court to provide an opinion on the merits of this case.

“Regardless of this decision, we are prepared to defend and grow our majority in the House of Delegates. We will run on our record, which includes cutting taxes for the middle-class, freezing college tuition, and standing up for survivors of domestic assault, and the proven results we have delivered over the last two decades. We protected our AAA bond rating through the great recession, set aside over $1.5 billion in reserve funds, raised teacher pay, and made Virginia one of the best states for business. We have recruited a diverse slate of candidates that reflect the communities they seek to serve, including eight women and two African Americans. We are confident that voters will opt for the leadership and results we have delivered over chaos, embarrassment, and unchecked Democratic control of state government.”

The decision to dismiss the House of Delegates’ appeal was on a vote of 5-4 with Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Clarence Thomas, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Neil Gorsuch voting for the majority.

See also:

-Richmond Times Dispatch: Editorial: The U.S. Supreme Court case proves why Virginia needs a redistricting commission

– Daily Press Editorial Board: Take politics out of creating General Assembly districts