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SCOTUS Weighs House GOP Appeal in Racial Gerrymandering Case

Virginia House Speaker Kirk Cox and Del. Chris Jones address reporters outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday. Whittney Evans/WCVE

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments Monday in Virginia’s racial gerrymandering case. It was the last opportunity for House Republicans to defend the legislative boundaries they drew in 2011.

A federal court ruled in June that the boundaries unlawfully packed African-American voters into some districts and diluted their votes in others. House Republicans appealed that decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh sympathized with the House, noting the balancing act legislators were faced with during the redistricting process as they worked to comply with the federal voting rights and antidiscrimination laws. He considered the consequences had they drawn slightly fewer black voters in each district.

“They would be hammered from the other side, saying you are discriminating against African-American voters because you're not giving the voters a sufficient opportunity to elect the candidate of their choice, “ he said.

An attorney for the House noted, all but two members of the African-American Caucus supported the map when it was approved.

But Justice Sonia Sotomayor said it was clear race was a large consideration in this process. She pointed to an example where legislators drew a line down the middle of a street, with white voters on one side of the street and black voters on the other.

“I don't know how you can look at that and not think that race predominated,” she said.

Virginia Del. Chris Jones (R-Suffolk) spoke to reporters outside the courtroom.

“We had worked very close with the Black Caucus and the Democrats, the Northern Virginia Democrats and had 80 plus votes for the map which is unprecedented in Virginia history of getting a map passed by the legislature,” Jones said.

Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring argued the House doesn’t have the right to appeal the case to the high court. Virginia law says only he can represent the Commonwealth, which he chose not to do in this case.

“Nothing I heard today changes my belief that it’s time for this case to come to an end and that we implement fair and constitutional and representative districts for the next elections,” Herring said.

The court will rule on the matter by the end of June. If Justices side with House Republicans the contested map remains in place. Otherwise a new map, approved by a federal district court in January, will be implemented. That map would make at least six current GOP districts more competitive for Democrats.