As expected, the Supreme Court left untouched a lower court ruling that had forced Virginia to implement new congressional lines in 2016 because the state’s previous map was found to be an illegal racial gerrymander. The lower court determined that Republican legislators had improperly packed minority voters into a single 3rd District spanning from Richmond to Norfolk, which effectively made all the surrounding districts whiter—and therefore more likely to elect a Republican. The lower court ordered the above map into place, which created a new 4th District with a large enough black population to allow African-American voters to elect their candidate of choice.
The Supreme Court’s decision is a win for minority voting rights and consequently Democrats, since Obama won the new 4th District with 61 percent of the vote. Black representation will likely double from one to two members in southeastern Virginia with the likely election of Democratic state Sen. Don McEachin, who is the leading candidate in the revised 4th District.
Unfortunately, the Supreme Court did not set a national precedent by ruling on the merits of the case. Instead, the justices unanimously ruled that Republican legislators lacked legal standing to bring the case in the first place, meaning that the lower court’s ruling consequently stands—but it only applies to the case at hand. As a result, this lawsuit will not clarify further issues that remain in similar racial gerrymandering disputes, such as one in North Carolina.
This ruling demonstrates just how important it is that Democrats win the 2016 presidential election and take back the Senate, so that they can confirm a new Supreme Court justice who strongly supports voting rights. A new majority on the court could establish a national precedent against racial gerrymandering, which could be used in several more states where legislators can draw another district to elect a minority representative.