Fourteenth Amendment

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.

The issue in Timbs v. Indiana is whether the Eighth Amendment Excessive Fines Clause applies to the states. The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) Supreme Court amicus brief rejects the argument that the Fourteenth Amendment incorporates all rights included in the first eight Amendments. It also argues that the forfeiture in this case isn’t unconstitutionally excessive.

In 1986 a majority of the Supreme Court agreed that partisan gerrymandering may be unconstitutional in certain circumstances. But in that case and since then the Court has failed to agree on a standard for when partisan gerrymandering crosses the line. In Gill v. Whitford and Benisek v. Lamone the Supreme Court again declined to adopt a standard for what constitutes an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander.

In Gill the Court concluded that the gerrymandering challengers failed to demonstrate they had standing to bring their lawsuit. In Benisek the Court allowed Maryland’s redistricting plan to go into effect because, among other reasons, the challengers were too delayed in bringing their lawsuit.  

In Gill v. Whitford the Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether and when it is possible to bring a claim that partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional.  

While the Court has repeatedly struck down district maps that rely on racial gerrymandering, it has never ruled that maps drawn to secure partisan advantage are unconstitutional. In 2004, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy – who may be the deciding vote in Whitford – wrote a concurring opinion indicating that partisan gerrymandering could be unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court will decide in Nelson v. Colorado whether it violates due process to require criminal defendants whose convictions have been reversed to prove their innocence by clear and convincing evidence to receive refunds of monetary penalties they have paid.  

Shannon Nelson was convicted of five charges relating to sexually assaulting her children. She was ordered to pay a variety of costs and fees. The appeals court overturned her conviction because the trial court allowed a lay witness to testify about the age at which children have the ability to remember information and relate it accurately. A new jury acquitted her.

She asked the trial court to refund the money she paid in costs and fees. It refused ruling that the legislature has not given it authority to issue refunds.

Pages