A federal court just dealt a devastating blow to Republican midterm prospects in key swing state

The newly conservative Supreme Court has been avoiding cases where states have gerrymandered district lines to favor one political party, but a district court today gave a big win to Democrats in Virginia. 

In a case that has been to the Supreme Court and was sent back to the district court for further adjudication, a panel of three judges voted two to one that Virginia’s legislative districts were gerrymandered along racial lines, with African Americans being packed into certain districts allowing Republicans to win the majority of votes statewide. . 

The judges ordered the state to come up with an acceptable new redistricting plan by the end of this October. 

“Overwhelming evidence, in this case, shows that, contrary to this constitutional mandate, the state has sorted voters into districts based on the color of their skin,” Judge Barbara Milano Keenan wrote in the majority opinion.

The judges ruled in the case of Bethune-Hill v. Virginia State Board of Elections.that the plan for the Virginia House of Delegates, drawn in 2011, “violated the Equal Protection Clause” of the U.S. Constitution. 

Marc Elias, the lawyer who represented those challenging the districts had argued that the members of the state legislature who drew up the district plan purposely and improperly diluted the power of African Americans by squeezing mot into 11 majority-black districts.

Even with the gerrymandering, Democrats have seen a resurgence in the state. Last November, Democrat got 49 seats in the 100 seat body, compared to the prior period when the Republicans held a 66 to 33 majority. 

“The court had upheld the districts in an earlier ruling,” reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “But in early 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court instructed the court to reconsider the case using a narrower legal standard.”

There is another suit also challenging the Virginia gerrymandering of districts still in progress and this one could be appealed again to higher courts, and might land back in the Supreme Court where the conservative majority could overturn it again.

If Democrats ever get control of the legislature and statehouse back, they may be able to finally pass a law turning over redistricting to an independent commission as California and other states have done.

Efforts to get an independent commission have been shot down in Virginia over the years again and again.

For now, it is another win for Democrats, progressives, and minorities who have been shut out of the electoral process in the state for many years.

As the last election showed, if there is a “blue wave” of Democrats going to the polls, the district lines issue can be overcome, but it will take a tremendous victory. 

Benjamin Locke

Benjamin Locke is a retired college professor with an undergraduate degree in Industrial Labor and Relations from Cornell University and an MBA from the European School of Management.