WASHINGTON (CN) — The Supreme Court on Monday ruled against Republican lawmakers seeking to resurrect district lines struck down as racially gerrymandered.
The redistricting plan at issue centers on Virginia’s Third Congressional District, which some say was redrawn in 2012 to limit the political impact of black voters by packing them in one voting district.
Most of the district is a squat, jagged rectangle that starts at Richmond and follows the James River toward the central Virginia coast. But the district breaks up when it nears the Chesapeake Bay, skipping over a chunk of land to envelop parts of Newport News, Hampton and Norfolk, all of which contain significant black populations.
As a result, 56.3 percent of the Third District’s voting-age population is black, making it the only minority-majority district in the state.
Two voters in the district, Gloria Personhuballah and James Farkas, challenged the redistricting in 2013, saying it unconstitutionally reduced the influence of black voters in other districts. The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia agreed and has twice struck down the 2012 lines, replacing them with a new map meant to balance the racial makeup of the district.
But the whole of Virginia’s congressional delegation appealed the lower court’s decision, arguing the Legislature’s motivations in redistricting were with protecting incumbents, not with drawing lines based on race.
That race and partisanship are so closely tied does not mean the Legislature was acting with a racist intent when dividing up the voting population, the lawmakers argued.
At oral arguments this past March, the justices focused on whether the 10 current and former lawmakers had standing to appeal in the first place.
They answered with a unanimous “no” Monday.
Quoting 30-year-old precedent, the justices said an “intervenor cannot step into the shoes of the original party unless the intervenor independently ‘fulfills the requirements of Article III.'”
The six-page opinion notes that Reps. Randy Forbes, Robert Wittman and David Brat were the only congressman of the original 10 who tried to show standing.
Half of the ruling is spent unraveling each representative’s assertion.
“Forbes, the Republican incumbent in Congressional District 4, told us in his brief that, unless the Enacted Plan is upheld, District 4 will be ‘completely transform[ed] from a 48% Democratic district into a safe 60% Democratic district,'” the ruling states. “According to Forbes, the threat of that kind of transformation compelled him to run in a different district, namely, Congressional District 2.”
Forbes told the court after oral argument that he was planning to “seek election in District 2 regardless of whether the enacted plan is reinstated,” the ruling continues.
“Given this letter, we do not see how any injury that Forbes might have suffered ‘is likely to be redressed by a favorable judicial decision,'” Justice Stephen Breyer wrote for the court.
Wittman and Brat meanwhile argued that the new plan hurts their re-election chances, since it replaces “a portion of their ‘base electorate'” with “unfavorable Democratic voters.”
“Even assuming, without deciding, that this kind of injury is legally cognizable, Representatives Wittman and Brat have not identified record evidence establishing their alleged harm,” Breyer wrote.
“We need go no further,” the ruling concludes. “Given the lack of evidence that any of the three representatives has standing, we need not decide when, or whether, evidence of the kind of injury they allege would prove sufficient for purposes of Article III’s requirements. In light of the letter we have received about Representative Forbes, and the absence of any evidence in the briefs supporting any harm to the other two representatives, we conclude that none of the intervenors has standing to bring an appeal in this case. We consequently lack jurisdiction and therefore dismiss this appeal.”
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