This ruling could result in an outcome much like a 2015 Supreme Court ruling against Alabama, where they faulted the state for using a mechanical population proportion threshold without demonstrating it was necessary to elect black voters’ candidate choice. The court also remanded that decision back to the lower court, which in turn eventually struck down Alabama’s legislative districts in January as unconstitutional racial gerrymanders and ordered new maps.
There is no guarantee that a reconsidered district court ruling could come in time to affect Virginia’s state House elections this November, and a delayed ruling could potentially even result in 2018 special elections for the affected districts. However, if the court strikes down the districts in question and orders legislators to draw new ones, black voters and consequently Democrats could gain significantly.
The Republican-controlled legislature currently lacks the votes to override Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s vetoes, and this situation could persist following the 2017 elections if Democrats win the race to succeed McAuliffe. After a federal court struck down Virginia’s congressional map in an unrelated racial gerrymandering case in 2015, the two parties couldn’t reach a compromise, so the court drew its own plan for the affected districts.
Such a result could see a dramatically more favorable map for Democrats than if Republicans got another chance to draw a new gerrymander. A new court-drawn map wouldn’t automatically hand Democrats control of the state House, but it could at least put the possibility of majority on the table. That would be an enormous victory against gerrymandering considering that the current map has consistently given Republicans roughly a two-thirds majority even though they haven’t won a statewide election since 2009.
A state court on Tuesday allowed an unrelated lawsuit to proceed to trial against both Virginia’s state House and state Senate maps. Unlike the federal racial gerrymandering case, that upcoming suit challenges the maps under a state constitutional provision that mandates districts be compact. The U.S. Supreme Court also has yet to rule in another critical racial gerrymandering lawsuit in North Carolina, which could affect how the district court in Virginia’s racial gerrymandering case revisits its overturned ruling.
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