Racial gerrymandering

In the latest twist in Virginia’s redistricting saga, Virginia House of Delegates v. Bethune-Hill, the Supreme Court must resolve a showdown between the Virginia House of Delegates and the Virginia Attorney General regarding who may litigate the case, among many other issues.

Plaintiffs, a number of Virginia voters, allege that the Virginia legislature engaged in unconstitutional racial gerrymandering when it constructed 12 majority-black Virginia House of Delegates districts during the 2011 redistricting cycle. More specifically, the plaintiffs argue that requiring each of these districts to contain a minimum 55% black voting age population (BVAP) was unnecessary for black voters to elect their preferred candidates per the Voting Rights Act. Plaintiffs claim this minimum was set to reduce the influence of black voters in other districts.

Abbott v. Perez is odd and unusually complicated even for a racial gerrymandering case.

In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court upheld all but one of Texas’ 2013 congressional and state legislative districts. The Texas Legislature’s 2013 redistricting plan codified a Texas federal district court’s second attempt at redrawing the legislature’s 2011 plan. The Supreme Court concluded the lower court erred when it required the Texas Legislature to prove that it purged the racially discriminatory taint of the 2011 legislative-drawn plan.

What if a district court adopts a redistricting plan and the state legislature later codifies that plan. May the same district court later rule the redistricting plan is unlawful and/or unconstitutional? That is what the Supreme Court will decide in Abbott v. Perez.

A number of persons and advocacy groups challenged the Texas Legislature’s 2011 state legislative and congressional redistricting plan claiming it discriminated against black and Hispanic voters in violation of the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause and the Voting Rights Act.

A three-judge district court issued a remedial redistricting plan which the U.S. Supreme Court vacated in 2012. The district court then drew another remedial redistricting plan called plan C235. In plan C235 the court reconfigured nine challenged districts from the legislature’s 2011 plan but retained two districts, CD27 and CD35, without reconfiguration. In 2013 the state legislature ultimately adopted plan C235.        

In North Carolina v. Covington the Supreme Court issued a three-page unauthored opinion ordering a North Carolina district court to reconsider its decision to remedy unconstitutional racial gerrymandering by truncating existing legislators’ terms and holding a special election.

In a 7-1 decision in Bethune-Hill v. Virginia State Board of Elections the Supreme Court rejected the notions that race predominates in redistricting only when there is an actual conflict between traditional redistricting criteria and race and that the predominance analysis should apply only to new district lines that appear to deviate from traditional redistricting criteria.

Regarding District 75, where the lower court determined race did predominate, the Supreme Court agreed the State’s use of race was narrowly tailored because it had “good reasons to believe” that a target of a 55% black voting-age population (BVAP) was necessary to avoid diminishing the ability of black voters to elect their preferred candidate.

Pages