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SCOTUS Tosses Racial Gerrymandering Appeal in Virginia

View of the US Supreme Court Building on a bright Christmas Day
By William Vogeler, Esq. on June 17, 2019

Saying that one half of the state's bicameral legislature could not proceed without the other, the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed a Republican-backed appeal to stop elections in Virginia.

In Virginia House of Delegates v. Bethune-Hill, the big issue was over gerrymandering that favored Republicans. The Supreme Court already decided the legislative districts had to be redrawn to correct racial gerrymandering years ago.

But Republicans who controlled the House of Delegates didn't like the new maps and fought past Democrats for another hearing in the Supreme Court. The justices, in an unusual 5-4 vote, told them to go back to where they came from.

Lacking Authority

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the majority opinion, joined by Justices Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, Clarence Thomas, and Neil Gorsuch. They said the House of Delegates lacked the authority to displace Virginia's attorney general -- a Democrat -- as representative of the state.

"In short, Virginia would rather stop than fight on," Ginsburg wrote. "One House of its bicameral legislature cannot alone continue the litigation against the will of its partners in the legislative process."

Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, tweeted his approval of the decision. "This is a welcome ruling from the Supreme Court - it's like I've always said, voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around."

The decision was not politics as usual, but the case was unusual regardless. Northam has been involved in his own racial controversy after a racist photo from his 1984 medical school yearbook page came out.

Not Politics as Usual

It is not the first time the gerrymandering case has come before the Supreme Court. In 2017, the majority said 11 voting districts had to be re-examined for potential racial bias.

Last year, the state legislature worked through the summer on a redistricting plan. They couldn't do it, however, and the case went back to federal court.

In two other gerrymandering cases from Maryland and North Carolina, the justices are considering whether voting maps can be divided purely for partisan political reasons. Decisions are expected in those cases by the end of this month.

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