SCOTUS Appears Divided Over Virginia Racial Redistricting Case
March 19, 2019 AT 7:25 AM

By Richard Wolf

Virginia's use of racial demographics to draw election districts over the past decade divided the Supreme Court Monday, a week before it will consider an even more explosive issue: partisan gerrymandering.

The court's conservative justices seemed inclined to let the state's Republican-controlled House of Delegates defend the racially drawn districts, even when the Democratic executive branch refused to do so. They also defended the GOP's decision to make 11 districts 55 percent African American, which a federal district court struck down as unnecessarily excessive.

"I'm wondering why 55 is so problematic here, given that the states have to have some flexibility," Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh told lawyers for the state and individual challengers. "If a state ... said, 'We're going to do 52 percent or 53 percent', they would be hammered from the other side, saying you are discriminating against African American voters."

But liberal justices argued that the GOP House lacked the authority to defend the districts because it does not represent the governor or state Senate. And they expressed doubt about the way the lines were drawn.

"They drew lines in the middle of a street, with black houses on one side and white houses on another side," Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor said. "I don't know how you can look at that and not think that race predominated."

It was the second time the high court has heard the case. In 2017, it sided with challengers in demanding further review of the districts by the lower court. The 7-1 ruling was a temporary victory for Democrats who argued that the maps were drawn to pack more blacks than necessary in some districts to give Republicans the advantage in many more surrounding districts.

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