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SCOTUS Squashes Virginia Racial Gerrymandering Appeal

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By George Khoury, Esq. on June 17, 2019 2:55 PM

In an interesting twist, Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan agreed with Justices Thomas and Gorsuch that the Virginia House of Representatives didn't have standing to challenge the appellate court's ruling that the election maps had been unconstitutionally, and racially, gerrymandered.

In short, the High Court majority explained that the state’s House needed (but failed) to demonstrate that it had suffered a redressable injury in order to have grounds to appeal. If this is still confusing, read on for a brief, plain- English explanation of what this decision means.

No Racial Gerrymandering

The underlying case involved claims of racial gerrymandering in several voting districts in Virginia. This means that the voting districts were redrawn for the purpose of disenfranchising voters based on race. And while gerrymandering for other reasons may be perfectly legal, when race is a factor, it violates the law.

After the federal district court ruled that the redrawn voting districts were invalid, and the federal appellate court agreed, the state's attorney general publicly stated (and made a filing to the court explaining) that the state AG would not be appealing any further. At that point, the state's House of Representatives sought to keep the appeal alive and filed a petition for review to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In the majority opinion, Justice Ginsburg explains that the state’s House cannot represent the interests of the state by itself. Perhaps in conjunction with the state's Senate, there may have been more of an argument, but that wasn't the case. And under Virginia law, the state AG represents the state’s interests. Additionally, the majority opinion asserted that the individual members of the House were not injured (in the legal sense), such that they would be entitled to relief from a court, which is a critical element to have legal standing.

Dissenting Views

Justice Alito penned a dissenting opinion asserting that the majority was plainly wrong in its assessment of the case. He explained that the House clearly will be injured because the members have the right to redistrict, and thus, by the courts taking that away, they have lost their right. Notably though, the majority opinion leaves it open for the state legislature to try again, just in a way that would not be racially motivated.

Want to know more? Read the full opinion below.

Virginia House of Delegates... by on Scribd