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Bethune-Hill et al. v. Virginia State Board of Elections, et al. (U.S. Sup. Ct.)

READ CAC's BRIEF IN Bethune-Hill et al. v. Virginia State Board of Elections, et al.

In Bethune-Hill, et al. v. Virginia State Board of Elections, et al., the Supreme Court was asked to decide whether the Virginia legislature’s use of a fixed racial quota to draw its state legislative districts violated the Fourteenth Amendment.

Following the 2010 Census, the Virginia legislature redrew its state legislative districts. The Virginia House of Delegates used a fixed racial quota to draw the lines, creating 12 majority-minority districts in which the African American voting age population had to be at least 55%. The legislature did not, however, consider whether in each of the 12 districts, the 55% quota was in fact necessary to ensure that African Americans could elect representatives of their choice.  Instead, they considered the quota nonnegotiable, failing to examine Virginia geography, demographics, or political history.  In a 2-1 decision, a three-judge district court upheld the new district lines, concluding that racial considerations did not “predominate” in 11 of the 12 districts and that the predominant use of race in creating one of the districts was sufficiently justified by compelling state interests. Members from the districts in question then appealed this decision to the Supreme Court.

On September 14, 2016, CAC filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the appellants, arguing that the Virginia legislature’s use of an inflexible racial quota violated the guarantees of equality contained in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments.  As we explained in our brief, the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments prohibit racial discrimination in voting and the drawing of district lines, and Virginia’s use of a mechanical racial quota to over-pack minorities into certain districts – thereby curbing their influence elsewhere – violated these principles. By using the fixed 55% quota, Virginia made race the predominant factor in drawing its district lines, and its use of that quota must therefore satisfy strict scrutiny, the most stringent standard of judicial review. Our brief further demonstrated why the Virginia legislature’s claim that its 55% rule satisfies strict scrutiny because it was necessary to comply with the protections of the Voting Rights Act was wrong.  As we explained, the Voting Rights Act requires a state to consider all relevant circumstances to ensure that minorities have an equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice.  Using a fixed racial quota to draw districts turns the Voting Rights Act on its head.

The Supreme Court heard oral argument on December 5, 2016, and on March 1, 2017, the Court unanimously reversed the district court’s decision. The Court held that the district court had applied a crabbed test for racial gerrymandering, and remanded the case for further review.  The Supreme Court’s ruling made clear that courts must carefully review state district lines to ensure consistency with the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection for all persons, and that states cannot use racial quotas to draw district lines and hope to escape constitutional scrutiny.

Briefs filed by CAC: