Bethune-Hill v. Virginia State Bd. of Elections

Summarized by:

  • Court: United States Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Election Law
  • Date Filed: March 1, 2017
  • Case #: No. 15-680
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: KENNEDY, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and GINSBURG, BREYER, SOTOMAYOR, and KAGAN, JJ., joined. ALITO, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment. THOMAS, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment in part and dissenting in part.
  • Full Text Opinion

The District Court erred by applying an incorrect legal standard to find that race was not predominate in the Virginia Legislature’s redrawing of 11 of 12 legislative districts, but the District Court’s analysis of District 75 was consistent with the narrowly tailoring analysis set forth in Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama.

In 2010, the Virginia Legislature decided to redraw 12 legislative districts in a way that made sure that each district would have at least a 55% black voting-age population so as to avoid diminishing black voters’ ability to elect their preferred candidates in compliance with §5 of the Voting Rights Act. Voters challenged Virginia’s redistricting as racial gerrymandering under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. For 11 of the districts, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia rejected the challengers’ argument, because the challengers failed to prove that race was the predominant factor used in redistricting as required by the Miller v. Johnson standard. The court determined that only actual conflict with traditional criteria for redistricting and race could satisfy the standard. For the remaining district, District 75, the court found that strict scrutiny was satisfied because the Legislature’s use of race was narrowly tailored to the State’s compelling state interest in complying with Voting Rights Act. Petitioners then appealed to the United States Supreme Court, to have the court decide whether the Virginia State Legislature’s consideration of race in drawing new lines for 12 state legislative districts violated the Equal Protection Clause. The Court remanded the decision back to the District Court after finding that the District Court had applied the incorrect standard. The Supreme Court instructed the District Court to re-decide the issues of whether race predominated the legislature’s shaping of 11 of the districts. The Supreme Court went on to hold that the District Court properly analyzed District 75 under Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama’s narrow tailoring analysis and affirmed its findings that it was indeed necessary for the Legislature to conclude that the district should have a 55% black voting-age population in order to keep its functional majority. AFFIRMED in part, VACATED in part, and REMANDED. 

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