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Supreme Court refuses to let Virginia GOP rig elections against black voters

Republicans were dealt a blow when the Supreme Court dismissed their challenge against fairly drawn state legislative districts.

By Emily Singer - June 17, 2019
Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Proponents of fairer elections notched a significant win on Monday, when the Supreme Court ruled against the Virginia GOP’s attempts to racially gerrymander state legislative districts. Justice Ginsburg wrote the majority opinion, and was joined by Justices Sotomayor, Kagan, Thomas, and Gorsuch.

The 5-4 ruling keeps in place new General Assembly maps that were drawn by a lower court — which had ruled that Republicans in the state racially gerrymandered the districts in violation of the Constitution.

Republicans in the General Assembly had appealed the lower court ruling to the Supreme Court, hoping to keep in place their old maps, which disenfranchised black voters by packing them into fewer legislative districts to the benefit of the GOP. But the Supreme Court ruled that General Assembly Republicans didn’t have the right to appeal, and thus their challenge was tossed out.

The GOP’s old maps that were tossed out allowed Republicans to hold a 51-49 majority in the General Assembly, despite the fact that Democrats have won by large margins statewide in the past few elections.

The new maps from the lower court, however, better reflect the partisan breakdown of the state.

According to analysis by Daily Kos Elections, Hillary Clinton carried just 51 of the 100 General Assembly districts under the old map that Republicans wanted to keep — despite winning the state by more than 5 points. But under the new map that SCOTUS let stand, Clinton carried 56 seats, according to Wolf’s analysis.

That gives Democrats a good shot at winning control of the General Assembly in November, when voters head to the polls to choose members for all 100 seats.

Whichever party controls the General Assembly after November has huge implications for the next decade of state legislative and congressional elections in the state.

That’s because the General Assembly has control over the redistricting process after the 2020 census. And if Democrats control the chamber, they will hold the reins in that process, which determines the partisan breakdown of both state legislative and congressional district lines.

Republicans had that power after the 2010 Census, allowing the GOP to draw districts that strongly favored Republicans and gave them a vice grip on power for years, even in a state that was quickly trending blue.

Proponents of fairly drawn districts hailed the Supreme Court ruling.

“Today’s ruling from the Supreme Court is an important victory for African Americans in Virginia who have been forced since 2011 to vote in racially gerrymandered districts that unfairly diluted their voting power,” former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement. “With a new, fair map in place, all Virginians will now — finally — have the opportunity this fall to elect a House of Delegates that actually represents the will of the people.”


Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

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