The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday instructed a lower court to re-examine whether the Virginia General Assembly unconstitutionally stuffed African-American voters into certain districts, opening the door to a new political map that could reshape the Republican-controlled state legislature. Anti-gerrymandering advocates hailed the court’s opinion as a victory in the pursuit of more competitive elections, though the final outcome of the case remains unclear. With two justices partially dissenting, the Supreme Court told the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia to reconsider the matter using a different legal standard that could make it easier to prove lawmakers improperly prioritized race above other redistricting criteria when redrawing House of Delegates districts in 2011.
The case centers on whether the use of a 55 percent African-American voting threshold, which lawmakers defended as a way to preserve majority-black districts, amounted to impermissible, race-based gerrymandering.
“I am extremely confident that when this is examined again by the trial court using the appropriate standard, the challenged districts will be struck down as unconstitutional,” Marc E. Elias, a Democratic lawyer who brought the redistricting challenge on behalf of a group of African-American voters, said in an interview.
With all 100 seats in the House up for election this year, Elias said he expects the lower court to “move quickly so that the people of Virginia can get relief.”