By Bill Bartel
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday unanimously rejected an attempt by Virginia's Republican members of Congress to block new district boundaries that led Rep. Randy Forbes to seek election this year in a district where he doesn't live.
The high court ruled that none of the GOP legislators had legal standing to oppose the boundaries set in place after a federal lawsuit found the old district lines weakened black voter clout by packing too many black voters in the 3rd District. The 3rd's incumbent is Rep. Bobby Scott, the only black person elected to Congress from Virginia since the late 1800s.
As a remedy, federal judges in Richmond ordered the redrawing of district lines in time for this year's congressional elections. When the Republican-controlled General Assembly failed to comply, the judge hired a redistricting expert and put new districts in place.
In their legal challenge to the redistricting, attorneys for Forbes and other legislators argued that the Chesapeake Republican is harmed because the 4th District, which he has represented since 2001, had been redrawn from a Republican-majority district to one that is a "safe 60 percent Democratic district."
However, the justices ruled Forbes gave up any claim of damage when he decided to forgo seeking re-election in the 4th to instead run in the adjacent 2nd District to replace Rep. Scott Rigell, a Virginia Beach Republican, who is not seeking re-election.
Forbes, who remains a 4th District resident, is competing in a June 14 GOP 2nd District primary with state Del. Scott Taylor and attorney Pat Cardwell, both Virginia Beach residents.
During March 21 oral arguments in Washington, the justices were told Forbes would give up his bid for election in the 2nd and run in the 4th should the court rule in his favor. However, Forbes' attorney wrote to the court after the hearing to say his client would continue to run in the 2nd -- regardless of the court's decision.
"Given this letter, we do not see how any injury that Forbes might have suffered 'is likely to be redressed by a favorable judicial decision,' " Justice Stephen Beyer wrote. "Consequently, we need not decide whether, at the time he first intervened, Rep. Forbes possessed standing. Regardless, he does not possess standing now."
Reps. Rob Wittman and Dave Brat, both Republicans, also argued they were harmed because in their districts -- the 1st and 7th, respectively -- their "base electorate" was replaced by "unfavorable Democratic voters."
Breyer wrote that Wittman and Brat didn't present evidence to back up their claim.
In challenging the new boundaries, the House GOP members argued that the federal judges in Richmond put too much weight on race in ruling the old maps were unconstitutional. They had asked the high court to delay using the new maps in this year's election until it ruled on their challenge. Chief Justice John Roberts denied that request in January.
Breyer wrote Monday that given the Republican legislators' lack of legal standing, there was no need to rule on any of their objections to the new districts.
The revamping of districts affected more than one million residents in southeast Virginia and the Richmond area. It also sparked an increase in candidates this year.
The 3rd, which once stretched from Newport News to Richmond, is now centralized in Hampton Roads. It takes in all or part of the cities of Portsmouth, Norfolk, Chesapeake, Suffolk, Franklin, Hampton and Newport News and Isle of Wight County. Scott, a Newport News Democrat, is seeking re-election and is being challenged by Chesapeake Republican Marty Williams, chairman of the city's Planning Commission.
The 4th District, which once included all of Chesapeake and Suffolk, now includes a portion of those cities as well as all of the cities of Richmond and Petersburg -- both with significant black populations -- and several other cities and counties in between. The changes weaken Hampton Roads' voting strength in the 4th, with more than 60 percent of its residents now in the Richmond area.
Two Republicans and two Democrats are competing in separate June 14 primaries to be on the 4th District ballot in the fall. GOP contenders are Henrico County Sheriff Mike Wade and Chesterfield County resident Jackee Gonzalez. Democratic candidates are state Sen. Donald McEachin of Henrico County and Chesapeake City Council member Ella Ward.
The 2nd retains all of Virginia Beach and the state's Eastern Shore and part of Norfolk and Hampton. Its territory has been expanded to include Williamsburg, York County, and nearby communities. It loses Newport News precincts.
(c)2016 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.)