High Court Tosses Virginia Gerrymandering Appeal

Virginia voters persuaded a federal judge in 2017 that 11 of the 12 election districts pictured in this 2011 map were racially gerrymandered by Republican lawmakers. (Image via Virginia’s Public Access Project)

WASHINGTON (CN) — The Supreme Court blocked Republican lawmakers 5-4 on Monday from contesting a ruling that found they had gerrymandered voting districts to hurt black voters.

With the Virginia attorney general having opted not to appeal, the Republican-led House of Delegates attempted to bring the case to the Supreme Court as an intervenor.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote for the majority Monday, however, that the lawmakers lacked standing.

“In short, Virginia would rather stop than fight on,” Ginsburg wrote, joined by Justices Sonya Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch. “One house of its bicameral legislature cannot alone continue the litigation against the will of its partners in the legislative process.”

In a state that has swung left reliably since President Barack Obama’s first election in 2008, Republicans have controlled the Virginia House every year since 1999.

After lawmakers redrew election districts in 2011 based on new census data, voters led by Golden Bethune-Hill claimed in a 2014 lawsuit that the state had corralled black voters to make surrounding districts more white and more Republican.

The District Court agreed that 11 of the 12 challenged districts were racially gerrymandered, and the state House of Delegates insisted that it was qualified to see that ruling overturned.

Ginsburg disagreed Monday, however, underscoring the failure of lawmakers to show that they would represent the state’s interests.

“Nowhere in its motion did the House suggest it was intervening as agent of the State,” Ginsburg wrote. “That silence undermines the House’s attempt to proceed before us on behalf of the state.”

Joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Stephen Breyer and Brett Kavanaugh, Justice Samuel Alito argued in dissent that the House should have been allowed to appeal as an injured party.

“The separation of powers (or the lack thereof) under a state constitution is purely a matter of state law, and neither the court nor the Virginia solicitor general has provided any support for the proposition that Virginia law bars the House from defending, in its own right, the constitutionality of a districting plan,” Alito wrote.

Alito scoffed at the majority’s conclusion that the House “has no cognizable interest in the identity of its members.”

“It seems obvious that any group consisting of members who must work together to achieve the group’s aims has a keen interest in the identity of its members,” Alito wrote. “Apply what the court says to a group other than a legislative body and it is immediately obvious that the court is wrong. Does a string quartet have an interest in the identity of its cellist? Does a basketball team have an interest in the identity of its point guard?”

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, a Democrat who previously served in the state Senate, called Monday’s decision “a big win for democracy.”

“It’s unfortunate that House Republicans wasted millions of taxpayer dollars and months of litigation in a futile effort to protect racially gerrymandered districts, but the good news is that this fall’s elections will take place in constitutionally drawn districts,” Herring said in a statement.

Perkins Coie attorney Marc Elias represents the Virginia voters. He did not immediately return a request for comment.

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