The Supreme Court on Monday left in place a lower court's ruling that Virginia's Republican-led legislature unlawfully considered race when drawing U.S. congressional districts by packing black voters into one of them in a move opponents said diluted black electoral clout.
The court ruled 8-0 against current and former Republican U.S. House of Representatives members who had challenged a June 2015 lower court ruling that threw out the district. The justices found that the Republican lawmakers did not have legal standing to bring the case.
The focus of the case was on the composition of the majority-black U.S. House district held by Democrat Bobby Scott, the only black member of Virginia's congressional delegation.
Following the June 2015 ruling, some black voters from Scott's district were moved to an adjoining district, which is currently represented by white Republican Randy Forbes, one of the challengers in the case. This could make the district a possible Democratic pickup in the Nov. 8 election.
Several voters in Scott's district challenged the redistricting plan, approved by the legislature in 2012, saying it minimized minority voting power in violation of the federal Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of equal protection under the law.
The voters who brought the case in 2013 argued that the district that Scott represents, stretching from Richmond to Norfolk, was racially "gerrymandered," cramming black voters into it and reducing black influence in neighboring districts.
The case is Wittman v. Personhuballah, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 14-1504.
The 204-year-old gerrymander, long a symbol of crass political partisanship, is under mounting scrutiny.
While redistricting doesn’t top most voters’ list of priorities, the effects of gerrymandering are starting to seep into voter frustrations, experts say. Outsiders like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have railed against a system they say is “rigged.” And in a nation where 405 of the 435 House seats are considered safe for the incumbent, gerrymandering is perhaps the most blatant example of a rising feeling of voter impotence.
“Americans may not look at redistricting and say, ‘This is really what’s wrong with our democracy,’ but they will say, ‘I think the system is rigged,’ and they’re right – the system is rigged because of partisan gerrymandering,” says Gerry Hebert, a former acting chief of the Voting Section of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. “Many voters don’t realize that the election has already been decided” before they cast their vote.
Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham