Ger­ry­man­der­ing rul­ing a win for Va. Democrats

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY ROBERT BARNES AND LAURA VOZZELLA

The Supreme Court ruled Mon­day that Vir­ginia’s House Re­pub­li­cans did not have the le­gal right to chal­lenge a de­ci­sion that some of Vir­ginia’s leg­isla­tive dis­tricts were racially ger­ry­man­dered, which means fall elec­tions will take place in dis­tricts more fa­vor­able to Democrats.

All 140 seats in the leg­is­la­ture are on the bal­lot, and the GOP holds a three-seat edge in the House (51 to 48) and a bare ma­jor­ity in the Se­nate (20 to 19), with one va­cant seat in each cham­ber. Democrats have been hop­ing that a wave of suc­cesses in re­cent Vir­ginia elec­tions will move them into con­trol of the leg­is­la­ture for the first time since 1995. The party in charge in 2021 will over­see the next statewide redis­trict­ing ef­fort, fol­low­ing next year’s cen­sus — potentiall­y ce­ment­ing an ad­van­tage in fu­ture elec­tions.

The 5-to-4 de­ci­sion did not shed light on how courts should con­sider claims of racial ger­ry­man­der­ing, but rather who has the right to sue. The court is

con­sid­er­ing potentiall­y more ground­break­ing cases about par­ti­san ger­ry­man­der­ing, in maps drawn by Re­pub­li­cans in North Carolina and Democrats in Mary­land.

The court has never found that pol­i­tics have so in­fected a redis­trict­ing process that vot­ers’ con­sti­tu­tional rights were vi­o­lated. Its de­ci­sion in those cases will come be­fore the end of the month.

In the Vir­ginia case de­cided Mon­day, Jus­tice Ruth Bader Gins­burg wrote for the ma­jor­ity that House Re­pub­li­can lead­ers could not chal­lenge the court rul­ing af­ter At­tor­ney Gen­eral Mark R. Her­ring (D) ac­qui­esced.

“The State of Vir­ginia would rather stop than fight on,” she wrote. “One House of its bi­cam­eral leg­is­la­ture can­not alone con­tinue the lit­i­ga­tion against the will of its part­ners in the leg­isla­tive process.”

Gins­burg was joined in an un­usual align­ment by fel­low lib­eral Jus­tices So­nia So­tomayor and Elena Ka­gan, as well as con­ser­va­tives Clarence Thomas and Neil M. Gor­such. Be­cause Thomas is the se­nior jus­tice in that coali­tion, he would have as­signed the opin­ion to Gins­burg.

Jus­tice Sa­muel A. Al­ito Jr. dis­sented, say­ing he saw no sup­port “for the propo­si­tion that Vir­ginia law bars the House from de­fend­ing, in its own right, the con­sti­tu­tion­al­ity of a dis­trict­ing plan.” He was joined by fel­low con­ser­va­tives Chief Jus­tice John G. Roberts Jr. and Jus­tice Brett M. Ka­vanaugh, as well as lib­eral Jus­tice Stephen G. Breyer.

The dis­tricts have been sub­ject to le­gal chal­lenges ever since they were drawn in 2011. Re­pub­li­cans con­trolled the House of Del­e­gates at the time and Democrats the state Se­nate. Un­der a deal, Re­pub­li­cans drew the map for the House, and Democrats drew the one for the Se­nate with­out in­ter­fer­ence from the other cham­ber.

The House map had the sup­port of the Leg­isla­tive Black Cau­cus and was ap­proved by the Jus­tice De­part­ment un­der Pres­i­dent Barack Obama.

But courts even­tu­ally found that leg­is­la­tors had placed too much em­pha­sis on race in draw­ing the lines, and a panel of fed­eral judges found that 11 House dis­tricts were im­proper. The House de­clined the court’s of­fer to draw new maps, and the court hired an ex­pert to do the work.

It re­aligned 26 House dis­tricts as it reme­died the 11 un­der court or­der. Re­pub­li­can in­cum­bents in six of those dis­tricts will find it more dif­fi­cult to de­fend their seats against Demo­cratic chal­lengers this Novem­ber, ac­cord­ing to an anal­y­sis by the non­par­ti­san Vir­ginia Pub­lic Ac­cess Project. Pri­maries were held last week in the new dis­tricts.

Not sur­pris­ingly, Vir­ginia Democrats and Re­pub­li­cans had op­po­site re­ac­tions.

“To­day’s Supreme Court rul­ing is a vic­tory for democ­racy and vot­ing rights in our Com­mon­wealth,” Gov. Ralph Northam (D) said in a writ­ten state­ment. “When we cor­rected racially ger­ry­man­dered dis­tricts ear­lier this year, we righted a wrong — as I have al­ways said, vot­ers should choose their rep­re­sen­ta­tives, not the other way around.”

Her­ring, who had ar­gued that the de­ci­sion on whether to ap­peal the ger­ry­man­der­ing de­ci­sion was his alone to make, called it a “big win for democ­racy.”

“It’s un­for­tu­nate that House Re­pub­li­cans wasted mil­lions of tax­payer dol­lars and months of lit­i­ga­tion in a fu­tile ef­fort to pro­tect racially ger­ry­man­dered dis­tricts, but the good news is that this fall’s elec­tions will take place in con­sti­tu­tion­ally drawn dis­tricts,” Her­ring said in a state­ment.

Re­pub­li­cans said both men were hyp­o­crit­i­cal; Northam and Her­ring had voted for the orig­i­nal redis­trict­ing plans as mem­bers of the state Se­nate.

House Speaker Kirk Cox (RColo­nial Heights), whose own dis­trict was re­con­fig­ured by the de­ci­sion, said he was “dis­ap­pointed” with the rul­ing.

“The court’s opin­ion to­day ends a dis­ap­point­ing saga of or­ches­trated at­tacks against the con­sti­tu­tion­ally en­acted redis­trict­ing plan,” Cox said in a state­ment. “A shad­owy organizati­on funded by out-of-state in­ter­ests has cost the tax­pay­ers mil­lions to over­turn a leg­isla­tive map that passed in 2011 that passed with an over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity.”

He scolded Her­ring for de­clin­ing to de­fend the maps.

Adam Kincaid, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Na­tional Re­pub­li­can Redis­trict­ing Trust, said the de­ci­sion will have ef­fects be­yond Vir­ginia.

“Thed broader im­pli­ca­tions of this hold­ing will re­ver­ber­ate across the states, touch­ing vir­tu­ally ev­ery area of po­lit­i­cally charged law,” he said in a state­ment. “The Court has sown to the winds of ex­pe­di­ency and will reap a whirl­wind of par­ti­san mis­chief as state at­tor­neys gen­eral pick and choose which laws they will de­fend and which they will dis­re­gard on be­half of those plain­tiffs with which they are po­lit­i­cally or ide­o­log­i­cally aligned.”

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion filed a friend-of-the-court brief that es­sen­tially agreed with Her­ring, say­ing the House of Del­e­gates as an institutio­n has no in­her­ent in­ter­est in the shape of its dis­tricts or who gets elected to rep­re­sent them.

Gins­burg agreed. “The House does not se­lect its own mem­bers,” she wrote. “In­stead, it is a rep­re­sen­ta­tive body com­posed of mem­bers cho­sen by the peo­ple. Changes to its mem­ber­ship brought about by the vot­ing pub­lic thus in­flict no cog­niz­able injury on the House.”

To which Al­ito replied: “Re­ally?”

“It seems ob­vi­ous that any group con­sist­ing of mem­bers who must work to­gether to achieve the group’s aims has a keen in­ter­est in the iden­tity of its mem­bers, and it fol­lows that the group also has a strong in­ter­est in how its mem­bers are se­lected,” he wrote.

“Does a string quar­tet have an in­ter­est in the iden­tity of its cel­list? Does a bas­ket­ball team have an in­ter­est in the iden­tity of its point guard?”

The case is Vir­ginia House of Del­e­gates v. Bethune-Hill.

“Vot­ers should choose their rep­re­sen­ta­tives, not the other way around.” Vir­ginia Gov. Ralph Northam, re­act­ing to the Supreme Court de­ci­sion

SAL­WAN GE­ORGES/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

The Vir­ginia House map had the Leg­isla­tive Black Cau­cus’s sup­port and was ap­proved by the Obama Jus­tice De­part­ment, but courts even­tu­ally found that 11 House dis­tricts were im­proper.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.