The Supreme Court gave voting rights a much needed win today when they sent a Virginia racial gerrymandering case back to the lower court to reconsider whether or not Republican legislators had unconstitutionally racially gerrymandered 11 of 12 challenged state legislative districts. According to the Bethune-Hill v. Virginia State Board of Elections decision authored by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the lower court took the wrong approach when they determined that race did not impermissibly factor into the redrawing of these 11 districts. (The Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s ruling approving the 12th district).
When redrawing districts, Republican legislators said they used a population threshold of 55 percent when they redrew state House districts that already had a Black majority—a percentage that is much higher than necessary to ensure appropriate representation in those districts. This means that Black voters in the state were all specifically packed into certain districts so that they were not voting in neighboring districts where more Black voters could make an electoral difference.
This is a critical win for voting rights in a time where we are seeing them systemically rolled back across the states. Crucially, this means that Black voters in Virginia will have a chance to have their votes counted appropriately. Earlier this week, the Department of Justice under Attorney General Jeff Sessions decided to reverse course on the Texas voter ID law and no longer assert that the law was created with the intention of suppressing minority voters. Both President Donald Trump and Sessions support voter ID laws and other barriers to voting, and they both erroneously claim voter fraud is a serious issue. Between voter ID laws and racial gerrymandering, the fundamental right to vote is under attack for minorities. Victories for voting rights may be few and far between in the next few years, so it is heartening to have such a decisive Supreme Court-level win. Today makes clear just how important it is to have judges—especially Supreme Court justices—who recognize that our Constitution is all about protecting rights, not constricting them.