Thursday, March 02, 2017

Supreme Court Deals Blow to Virginia Republicans

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For the majority of last 20 years, the number one goal of the Republican Party of Virginia - after totally prostituting themselves to the Christofascists at The Family Foundation - has been to disenfranchise non-white voters and to gerrymander Virginia Senate and House of Delegates districts to guarantee the election of Republican candidates.  These efforts have helped maintain the right wing Republican dominance in the House of Delegates.  Today, this framework was dealt a potentially major blow by the United States Supreme Court which reversed a district court ruling (the SCOTUS opinion is here) that had given a pass the Republican racially based gerrymandered districts.  Under the Supreme Court standards that are to be applied by the district court as it reexamines the issue. The ruling has the potential to force the redistricting of up to 30 House of Delegates districts.  The Washington Post looks at the ruling.  Here are excerpts:
The Supreme Court on Wednesday told a lower court to reexamine the redistricting efforts of Virginia’s Republican-led legislature for signs of racial bias and whether some legislative districts were gerrymandered to dilute the impact of African American voters.
The justices declined to take a position on that issue. But they said a lower court had not applied the right standards when it concluded that the legislature’s work was constitutional.
The decision was a win for black voters and Democrats who have challenged the General Assembly’s actions in drawing legislative as well as congressional lines.
A win at the Supreme Court last term resulted in redrawing the congressional map in a way that favored the election of a second African American congressman last fall.
[T]he decision buoyed Democrats, who are making a push to field candidates in most, if not all, of the 100 seats of the House of Delegates that are up for election.
The court ruling “contributes to the momentum that the Democrats believe they might finally have in actually being far more competitive in the Assembly elections this year than they have previously,” said longtime Virginia political analyst Bob Holsworth. “The redistricting case is on top of sort of the mobilization the Democrats are seeing in their local meetings, the increased attendance, the interest in actually running for election that you’re seeing among more people.”
Under Supreme Court precedents, the maps can sometimes require an examination of race to make sure minorities have a chance to elect candidates of their choice. But race cannot be the predominate factor in drawing districts. In Virginia and other states, challengers have said Republicans have packed minorities into a small number of districts to make surrounding areas more hospitable to GOP candidates.
[Justice] Kennedy said courts must look at the real reason for drawing the district, not whether it could be justified by other means.
“A state could construct a plethora of potential maps that look consistent with traditional, race-neutral principles,” Kennedy wrote. “But if race for its own sake is the overriding reason for choosing one map over others, race still may predominate.”
Marc E. Elias, who represented the challengers, said the decision will make it easier to win when the lower court reconsiders the 11 districts at issue. Its previous decision shut down efforts to show that Virginia was able to “hide the racial gerrymandering in districts that don’t look bizarre,” he said.
It is unclear if the case could play out before the November elections. But if the lower court rules that boundaries have to be redrawn at any point after that, Virginia would have to call special elections. Aside from the 11 districts affected by this case, an additional five are being litigated in Richmond Circuit Court, where a redistricting advocacy group has challenged them as being too sprawling to meet federal standards of compactness. That hearing is set for later this month.
If all the districts in both cases were found to be unconstitutional, they and the ones around them would have to be redrawn. That could amount to 30 districts or more in total — roughly a third of the Virginia House, said Brian Cannon, executive director of One Virginia 2021, the redistricting advocacy group that filed the Richmond case.
Additional analysis at Daily Kos can be found here

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