Amy Howe for SCOTUSBlog:
Today the Supreme Court rejected a request by Virginia legislators to put lower-court proceedings in a case challenging the legislative districts drawn for the state’s House of Delegates as the product of unconstitutional racial gerrymandering – that is, the idea that legislators relied too much on race when drawing the maps — on hold until the justices rule on the case. Today’s order means that a federal district court’s efforts to create a new map, with the assistance of a voting-rights expert appointed by the court, for the state’s elections in November can move forward, even as the Supreme Court prepares to hear oral argument and eventually issue a decision that could prompt changes in that map.
The court’s order came in Virginia House of Delegates v. Bethune-Hill, which will likely be argued in March. The case is on its second trip to the Supreme Court: In 2017, the justices concluded that a lower court had applied the wrong legal standard when it rebuffed the challengers’ claims that 12 districts were the result of racial gerrymandering. Although the justices upheld one of the 12 districts, it sent the case back to the lower court for it to take another look at the remaining 11 districts.
In June of last year, the lower court struck down the districts as unconstitutional. It concluded that race was indeed the main factor dictating the boundaries for the districts, and that the legislature had not shown that it needed to try to have the exact same percentage of African-American adults in each of the “vastly dissimilar” districts at issue to comply with federal voting-rights laws.
The state’s House of Delegates appealed to the Supreme Court in September, and the justices announced in November that they would review the case – including the question whether the House of Delegates has a legal right, known as standing, to take the case to the Supreme Court.