Supreme Court to look at Virginia state house districts

AP News
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Posted: Jun 06, 2016 11:30 AM

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court said Monday it will review a districting plan for the Virginia House of Delegates that challengers say gives too little power to African-American voters in an effort to boost Republican strength.

The case concerns claims that a plan approved in 2011 illegally packed black voters into a dozen legislative districts. The challengers say the plan made neighboring districts safer for Republicans because those districts had fewer black voters, who tend to support Democrats.

The court last month dismissed a Republican-led appeal that sought to preserve a congressional districting map that similarly concentrated black voters in one district and improved GOP prospects elsewhere in the state.

In the new case, a panel of three federal judges had voted 2-1 to uphold 11 of 12 districts. Writing for the majority, Judge Robert Payne said the challengers had failed to prove that race was the predominant factor in the composition of the districts.

The dissenting judge, Barbara Milano Keenan, said Virginia's General Assembly had applied a "one-size-fits-all racial quota" to 12 dissimilar districts.

Keenan said the legislature came up with the Virginia plan before a 2015 Supreme Court ruling in an Alabama redistricting case that rejected the use of "mechanical racial targets" in redrawing voting districts.

Democrats had hoped the federal judges would require the state House lines to be redrawn and order a special election this year. That would have given Democrats a chance to retake the state House while voter turnout is high during the presidential race.

The Virginia State Board of Elections argues in court papers that the plan garnered near-unanimous support from both political parties as well as the House Black Caucus.

Virginia House of Delegates Speaker William Howell, a Republican, said he is confident the Supreme Court will uphold the plan. He said the lower court ruling "shows that the House districts were drawn in accordance with the Constitution, all state and federal laws, and in a fair and open process."

The case, Bethune-Hill v. Virginia State Board of Elections, 15-680, will be argued when the court's new term begins in the fall.