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Justices Could Undo Win For Virginia Democrats

Nov. 13, 2018, 2:46 PMUpdated: Nov. 13, 2018, 2:58 PM

The U.S. Supreme Court today agreed to review Virginia’s state legislative districts ahead of the 2019 elections.

The outcome could undo gains Democrats and minority voters are expecting from a revised map that is currently being drafted by a three-judge district court panel.

Because Virginia elects state legislators in odd-number years, Virginia’s 2019 elections will determine which party will be in charge during the next redistricting cycle in 2020.

A number of states are embroiled in redistricting disputes. The Supreme Court has come down squarely against voter-boundary realignment on racial grounds, but continues to wrestle with the constitutionality of partisan-driven redistricting.

Organizations are pushing for a constitutional amendment that would take redistricting out of the hands of legislatures and put it with an independent redistricting commission.

A handful of ballot measures in other states were passed during the 2018 congressional midterms, but Virginia’s is still working its way through the state Legislature before voters can consider a referendum to change the state’s constitution.

New Map

In the meantime, a three-judge district court panel is working on drawing a revised map for the 100-member House of Delegates, after finding that 11 of the districts were racially gerrymandered.

The court had given the legislature until Oct. 30 to submit its own revised plan, but legislators failed to agree on an acceptable recommendation during a special session this fall.

The revised map could give a leg up to black and Democratic voters, who haven’t held a majority in the House of Delegates since the 1990s.

Republicans currently hold a slight majority of 50-49, with one vacancy. Republicans also hold a small majority in the state senate: 21-19.

It’s the second time the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the challenge to the state legislative districts.

The three-judge district court panel had originally upheld the all the challenged districts, but the Supreme Court reversed as to 11 of those 12 districts.

The high court agreed 8-0 that the lower court should take another look at the case.

On remand, the lower court reversed course, finding that the state hadn’t adequately justified its use of race during redistricting process.

The justices are expected to issue a decision before the term wraps up in late-summer.

The case is Va. House of Delegates v. Bethune-Hill, U.S., No. 18-281, review granted 11/13/18.

(Updated with additional reporting.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Kimberly Strawbridge Robinson in Washington at krobinson@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jessie Kokrda Kamens at jkamens@bloomberglaw.com