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Supreme Court Sends 3rd CD Racial “Packing” Case Back to Virginia 3-Judge Panel

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If you dislike racial packing, this SCOTUS decision looks like good news.

The U.S. Supreme Court sent Virginia’s 3rd District gerrymander case back down the pipe on Monday, a move that brings Virginia another step closer to a redraw of its congressional map.

The nation’s highest court vacated and remanded a three-judge panel’s decision in the case, which alleges that state leaders focused on race when drew lines for the 3rd District. The district is represented by U.S. Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, and it meanders back and forth across the James River, taking in minority populations in Hampton Roads.

[…]

Given the plaintiff’s initial victory, and last week’s U.S. Supreme Court decision in favor of plaintiffs from a similar case out of Alabama, Monday’s remand will likely lead federal judges here to re-affirm their initial order, according to Marc Elias, lead attorney for the plaintiffs.

“The Alabama decision supports our position,” Elias said in an email. “We expect the three judge panel to reach the same result now that Alabama has been decided.”

All in all, I’m told by someone (an attorney) with a lot more legal acumen than I’ve got that this is probably a good thing in the long term, “because the Eastern District Court of Virginia (EDVA) had a broad interpretation of the Voting Rights Act, and the SCOTUS case strengthens their case.”  In turn, that “definitely helps when [the case] gets to the 4th circuit again. I think there was a good chance the 4th circuit was going to reverse the EDVA opinion before the SCOTUS opinion came down.” Also, this “establishes a much firmer legal foundation for Rep. Scott’s case (I thought the previous EDVA opinion was weak). But it does push the timeline back because the EDVA has to hear the case again before it inevitably gets appealed to the 4th circuit.”

Bottom line: “I think it will get through the 4th circuit by the middle of next year. Whether the GOP wants to waste more money and appeal it to the Supreme Court, who knows? I think it makes political sense for them to push it back as late as possible, but it will cost a ton of $ in legal bills and SCOTUS would almost certainly refuse to take the case since they just adjudicated a very similar case last week.”

UPDATE: Del. Scott Surovell says, “Voting Rights Act redistricting cases are heard by three-judge DISTRICT COURT panels.  Appeals go directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.  Federal appeals courts such as the Fourth Circuit play no role in these cases.”

UPDATE #2: My main source for commentary on this article emails, “I should have been more precise: parties can appeal directly to SCOTUS in these cases, but circuit courts can be involved when there is no constitutional claim.”

  • jwsevert

    You might want to check with another source.

    Voting Rights Act cases of this type are initially heard by a 3 judge panel of the relevant appellate circuit, in this instance the Fourth.  The decision invalidating Virginia’s congressional gerrymander was rendered by three Fourth Circuit judges, not a District Court judge.

  • jwsevert

    I guess I’m off as well.  

    I guess it’s a 3 judge panel of EDVA rather than the 4th Circuit.

    I do believe, however, that the appeal bypasses the 4th Circuit and goes directly to the Supremes, which is why the Court was in a position to vacate and remand.