Supreme Court rejects GOP challenge to Virginia's 'race neutral' redistricting plan

By Doug G. Ware  |  May 23, 2016 at 3:43 PM
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WASHINGTON, May 23 (UPI) -- The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday dismissed a Republican-led challenge involving changes to Virginia congressional district boundaries that began four years ago and led to a lawsuit that claimed they were redrawn for racial purposes.

The lines were restructured by the GOP-controlled legislature in 2012, which led some to claim the legislative body composed them in such a way to place a large number of black voters in the state's Third District. The move supposedly left other districts more dominated by white voters and upped the chances the representatives there would be re-elected.

Opponents of the plan brought a lawsuit, Wittman v. Personhuballah, and claimed the Virginia legislature had violated the federal Voting Rights Act. A three-judge lower court later scrapped the plan, which led to a "race neutral" replacement -- which was then similarly challenged by some Virginia Republicans.

On Monday the high court determined that the GOP challengers don't have sufficient standing to challenge the "race neutral" remedial plan -- in part because they have failed to show they were harmed by it.

"We conclude that the intervenors now lack standing to pursue the appeal. And we consequently order the appeal dismissed," Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in delivering the opinion of the court.

The court noted further that lawmakers cannot intervene in place of the state government unless it can demonstrate "injury in fact" that is "fairly traceable" to the redistricting plan -- and that such injury would be "redressed by a favorable [judicial] decision."

Breyer noted that none of those requirements were met.

"Since the Commonwealth of Virginia has not pursued an appeal, only the intervenors currently attack the District Court's decisions striking down the enacted plan," Breyer wrote. "And an intervenor cannot step into the shoes of the original party unless the intervenor independently fulfills the requirements of Article III."

Republican Rep. Robert Goodlatte responded with disappointment Monday to the court's ruling.

"Today's decision by the Supreme Court does not address the fundamentally flawed ruling of the divided three-judge court, but deals solely with whether Virginia's members of Congress had standing to bring this appeal," he said, according to The Hill. "While the decision ends this case, nothing has changed for future districting actions elsewhere in the United States."

The district lines have an impact on the general election this fall, when Virginia's representatives will seek re-election to the 115th Congress.

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