Supreme Court: Lower court must review challenge to Va. redistricting

Supreme Court: Lower court must review challenge to Va. redistricting
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The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that a lower court must reconsider whether Republican political leaders packed black voters into legislative districts to diminish their voting power when redrawing Virginia's electoral map in 2011.

In a decision delivered by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the court said the lower court had used the incorrect legal standard in determining that race did not predominate in 11 of the state's 12 districts.

In the case, Bethune-Hill v. Virginia State Board of Elections, voters in each of the districts challenged the new map, claiming it constituted a racial gerrymander in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

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“The District Court is best positioned to determine in the first instance the extent to which, under the proper standard, race directed the shape of these 11 districts,” Kennedy wrote. 

“And if race did predominate, it is proper for the District Court to determine in the first instance whether strict scrutiny is satisfied. These matters are left for the District Court on remand."

As for the other district, the court said it found no error in the lower court ruling, which found that race did predominate, but that the lines were constitutional because the legislature’s use of race was narrowly tailored to a compelling state interest.

Justice Clarence Thomas dissented in part from the court's ruling.

"I concur in the Court’s judgment reversing the District Court’s decision to uphold 11 of the 12 districts at issue in this case — House Districts 63, 69, 70, 71, 74, 77, 80, 89, 90, 92, and 95," he wrote.

"I do not agree, however, with the court’s decision to leave open the question whether race predominated in those districts and, thus, whether they are subject to strict scrutiny."

Because the legislature conceded that it sought to achieve a black voting-age population of at least 55 percent in adjusting the lines of the 12 majority-minority districts, he said strict scrutiny is a must.

"When a legislature intentionally creates a majority-minority district, race is necessarily its predominant motivation and strict scrutiny is therefore triggered," he said.

--This report was updated at 11:15 a.m.