By Lawrence Hurley
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday said it will review for a second time whether Republican legislators in Virginia drew electoral districts in the state in a way that unlawfully diluted the clout of black voters.
The high court will hear an appeal by the Republican-led state House of Delegates of a June ruling by a federal three-judge panel that said the 11 state House districts in question all violated the rights of black voters to equal protection under the law under the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment.
Democrats have accused Republicans in Virginia and other states of crafting such legislative maps in a way that crams black and other minority voters into certain districts in order to reduce their overall sway in the state.
When the litigation first reached the high court, the justices last year threw out an earlier lower court ruling that had found the 11 districts, as well as one other district, to be lawful. The justices said the lower court had not sufficiently analyzed the consideration of race by the Republican legislators in the process of drawing Virginia’s electoral map.
The voters who brought the lawsuit accused Republicans of packing black voters into certain districts to diminish their voting power and make surrounding districts more white and more likely to support Republicans.
The case involves allegations of gerrymandering, a term that refers to manipulating the boundaries of a voting district to increase the clout of certain voters at the expense of others.
At issue was the state legislative map drawn by Republicans after the 2010 national census. Since then, Democrats have made gains in Virginia in both state and federal elections. The current governor and attorney general are both Democrats.
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring had urged the Supreme Court not to hear the case, saying the House of Delegates did not have legal standing to appeal. Tuesday’s brief court order said the justices will examine the issue of standing when they consider the case.
A ruling in the case is due by the end of June.
Race can be considered in redrawing boundaries of voting districts only in certain instances, such as when states are seeking to comply with the federal Voting Rights Act. That law protects minority voters and was enacted to address a history of racial discrimination in voting, especially in southern states.
While the Supreme Court for decades has invalidated electoral maps due to racial gerrymandering, the justices have not yet made a definitive ruling on whether drawing legislative districts for purely partisan advantage violates the Constitution.
(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)