On Wednesday, The Supreme Court instructed a lower court to re-examine whether the 2011 lines for 11 Virginia House Districts violate the Constitution by denying minority voters an equal voice in elections.
A group of voters, funded by national Democrats, are challenging 12 House of Delegates districts. The group are alleging that race was the dominate factor in drawing the 12 districts located in Richmond, the Hampton Roads area and along the state’s southern border.
The underlying issue was the legality of the House of Delegates goal of ensuring a voting age population that was at least 55 percent African American in 12 districts. In 11 of the 12 districts, the high court found that the majority on a three judge panel of the U.S. District Court in Richmond used the wrong legal standard when it ruled that the redistricting did not violate the U.S. Constitution's equal protection clause, which prohibits racial discrimination.
In the only district in which the Supreme Court reached an actual decision, District 75, the Virginia plan was affirmed. The lower court found that race was the overriding factor but the racial floor was appropriate in that district because it was tailored specifically to comply with the Voting Rights Act’s protections against “retrogression” in majority-black districts. The Supreme Court upheld that portion of the earlier ruling, while questioning the legislature’s decision to apply the 55 percent floor to all the districts in question.
In a 2-1 decision, a lower federal court had already ruled that race was not the dominant factor. The lower court held that if traditional redistricting practices such as compactness and protecting incumbents could explain a district, then race could not have been the predominant reason for their creation.
The Supreme Court overruled the way in which the District Court analyzed the case. The Supreme Court did not order the lines to be redrawn, but that the lower court reconsider the case and also declined the Plaintiffs’ request to find that the districts are unconstitutional.
The Court did not find that the 55% goal of Black Voting Age Population in majority-minority districts violated the law. This is not like the “mechanical” application of BVAP numbers held unconstitutional in the Alabama Supreme Court case.
The Plaintiffs in this case did not prevail and based on the Court’s opinion we believe they cannot prevail when we go back to the District Court. We are confident we will win.
In short, we are disappointed with the ruling from the Supreme Court. We have read the Court’s opinion and are quite confident that we can meet the new standard created by it.
The responsibility of redistricting lies with the legislature and that’s where it should lie. The House Districts were adopted with bipartisan support, including a strong majority of the African-American members of the House, and approved by President Obama's Department of Justice after dozens of public hearings and committee meetings.
This will have no effect on this year’s House elections.
It is a privilege to represent you in the Virginia House of Delegates. I encourage you to keep in touch with me and my office. I will be spending the coming weeks meeting and visiting with various groups, businesses and constituents giving updates on the 2017 session. You can email me at [email protected] or call me at (804)698-1059. You can also join the conversation on our social media page www.facebook.com/DelegateMattFariss