On Monday, the Supreme Court handed down their decision in Virginia House of Delegates v. Bethune-Hill, shutting down the Virginia GOP’s last ditch effort to rig the upcoming state legislative election taking place this November.
In 5-4 decision, the justices held that the House of Delegates has no standing to appeal the decision made by the lower court. The vote broke along unusual lines, with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg writing for a majority with Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Clarence Thomas, and Neil Gorsuch, and Justice Samuel Alito writing a dissent joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Stephen Breyer and Brett Kavanaugh.
The case stemmed from a challenge to the GOP-drawn House of Delegates legislative map in Virginia, which residents challenged as an unconstitutional racial gerrymander. 12 of the 100 districts contained a voting base that was more than 55 percent African-American, raising concerns that lawmakers deliberately crammed as many black voters into as few districts as possible so they could not have as many representatives as their presence in the population.
A district court previously ruled all 12 of the districts unconstitutional, but the Supreme Court in 2017 approved one of them and told the lower court to use a different standard to review the other 11. The district court once again found the remaining 11 unconstitutional, and ordered a new map to be drawn. Democratic state Attorney General Mark Herring refused to defend the GOP’s gerrymander, leading the legislature to hire its own lawyers — which the Supreme Court today ruled was not allowed.
The decision was not altogether surprising, as the new state legislative map is already in place and primaries have already been held. The Supreme Court typically does not intervene in elections halfway through the process, so it is likely the justices would have issued their opinion sooner if they had wanted to rule in favor of the GOP.
The ruling is a huge victory for Virginia Democrats, who will now be competing with a fair map that will have considerably more competitive districts. Democrats only need to swing two seats in the state Senate and House of Delegates to win control of either chamber. Winning both would give them their only legislature in a Southern state, and leave the Minnesota Senate as the only GOP-controlled legislative chamber in a state President Donald Trump lost.
The Supreme Court is scheduled to decide three more major voting rights cases this term: Rucho v. Common Cause, which concerns a Republican partisan gerrymander in North Carolina, Lamone v Benisek, which concerns a Democratic partisan gerrymander in Maryland, and Department of Commerce v. New York, which will decide whether the Trump administration can interrogate people about citizenship while conducting the 2020 Census.