See below for audio and a transcript – posted a bit earlier this afternoon – from the March 18 Supreme Court oral arguments in the case VIRGINIA HOUSE OF DELEGATES, ET AL., Appellants, v. GOLDEN BETHUNE-HILL, ET AL., Appellees. This, of course, is the infamous “racial packing” (by Virginia House of Delegates Republicans) case, which the Brennan Center for Justice summarizes as follows (bolding added by me for emphasis).
Also see SCOTUSblog, which wrote that, “Much of today’s oral argument was devoted to a threshold question: whether the legislature has a legal right, known as ‘standing,’ to appeal the district court’s decision to the Supreme Court in the first place” and that “The justices spent less time on the merits of the racial-gerrymandering challenge, but they were equally divided when they did discuss it.” Meanwhile, as we await whatever the Supreme Court decides, Virginia’s June 11 primaries are rapidly approaching, and the remedial map drawn by the “Special Master” is in effect, unless the Supreme Court reverses the lower court decision. Stay tuned!
A group of Virginia voters are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to decide whether Virginia lawmakers impermissibly used race in creating state legislative districts in 2011.
In 2014, residents of all 12 legislative districts contested the 2011 state house map drawn by Republican political leaders, arguing that the Virginia General Assembly violated the Equal Protection Clause when lawmakers purposefully drew each legislative district with a predetermined racial target of a 55% black voting age population and did so without a Voting Rights Act justification, unconstitutionally packing African-Americans into districts. The state defendants contended that their use of a racial quota was necessary to preserve minority communities’ ability to elect their candidates of choice. The defendants also argued that the plaintiffs’ claims failed because they did not submit an alternative map that showed that the General Assembly could have achieved its neutral goals with a greater racial balance.
A federal three-judge panel agreed with the defendants, and held that race was not a primary consideration in the configuration of 11 of the 12 challenged districts, despite the legislature’s use of 55% black voting age population floor for those districts. The panel ruled that race was a predominant factor in the drawing of one of the state’s African-American districts, but the General Assembly had a compelling interest in using race in order to comply with the Voting Rights Act and did so in a narrowly tailored way. The plaintiffs appealed the court’s decision to the Supreme Court, which held oral argument this past December.
On March 1, 2017, the Supreme Court ruled in a 6-2 decision that the three-judge panel had applied the wrong legal standard to reach its conclusion that race had not predominated in the drawing of the 11 challenged districts. The Court held that the panel had improperly required plaintiffs to show, as a precondition, that a challenged district was inconsistent with traditional redistricting principles. Rather, the Court said plaintiffs in racial gerrymandering cases could establish the predominance through a variety of direct and circumstantial evidence and that, even if a district otherwise complied with traditional redistricting principles, it could still be found unconstitutional if evidence established that race was the primary factor in its creation.
The Court remanded the case to the trial court to re-evaluate the districts under the correct standard.
The three-judge panel held an evidentiary hearing on October 10-12 to consider the parties’ claims on remand. Post-trial briefing concluded on November 22.
On June 26, the court ruled in a 2-1 decision that the eleven challenged state house districts were racially gerrymandered. The court ordered the General Assembly to create a remedial map by October 30.
The defendant-intervenors appealed the court’s decision to the Supreme Court on July 6. On January 8, 2019, the Supreme Court declined the defendants’ request to halt the remedial map-drawing process pending the appeal. Oral argument took place on March 18, 2019.
On October 18, 2018, the three-judge panel appointed a special master to assist with the remedial map drawing process. On February 14, 2019, the court ordered that the special master’s plan go into effect in time for the 2019 elections. The defendants appealed the decision on February 25, 2019.