Supreme Court Allows Virginia Redistricting to Stand in 2016

Virginia’s 2016 congressional elections in November can move ahead using a judge-selected redistricting plan put in place last month despite a pending Supreme Court challenge, under a Supreme Court order Monday.

The justices issued a one-line order to deny a request from 10 current and former Republican members of Congress to stop the redistricting plan in Virginia for the November congressional elections. The court didn't give a reason for its decision.

The court sided with Virginia elections officials over the request from Reps. Rob Wittman, Robert W. Goodlatte, J. Randy Forbes, Morgan Griffith, Scott Rigell, Robert Hurt, Dave Brat and Barbara Comstock, as well as former members of Congress Eric Cantor and Frank R. Wolf.

Underlying the issue are the lines drawn for the majority-black 3rd District held by Virginia Democratic Rep. Robert C. Scott. A lower court in 2014 found those lines to be an unconstitutional gerrymander, and a federal three-judge panel decided Jan. 7 to select a new congressional map and put it into effect for the 2016 elections.

The Supreme Court is reviewing the lower court decision in a separate case and a decision is expected by the end of June, about four months before the election. The justices are being asked to reverse the 2014 lower court ruling. Oral arguments are scheduled for March. 21.

The Republican lawmakers had warned the justices that the new map could cause "electoral chaos," "mass voter confusion" and "the postponement of congressional general elections until after the nationwide Nov. 8 Election Day in this presidential year" if the Supreme Court didn't step in. The lawmakers said the Supreme Court's decision in the underlying gerrymander case could affect the map selected by the three judges.  

The Virginia State Board of Elections, however, had argued that halting the new redistricting map for 2016 would again allow “racial packing" to taint elections following the redistricting that occurred after the 2010 census.

A ruling in June could cause redistricting changes late in the election cycle, if the high court requires them.

The new map would increase the black voting age population in the 4th District, currently held by GOP Rep. J. Randy Forbes. Several Democrats have already expressed interest in running for his seat.

But the 1st and the 7th districts would also change. GOP Rep. Rob Wittman of the 1st District has announced he’ll run for governor in 2017. Rep. Dave Brat, who holds the 7th District seat, attracted a Republican primary challenger late last year.