by Arusha Gordon, Associate Counsel, Legal Mobilization Project, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
On Monday, the Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision in Wittman v. Personhuballah, No. 14-1504. The case involves Virginia’s Third Congressional District, which the Virginia State Legislature drew in the wake of the 2010 census. In drawing and then approving the challenged map, the Virginia legislature chose to increase the Black Voting Age Population (BVAP) of Virginia’s only majority-minority congressional district (Congressional District 3) from 53.1 percent to 56.3 percent, rather than creating two congressional districts with significant percentages of African-American voters. Currently, Representative Bobby Scott, from the Third Congressional District, is Virginia’s only African-American representative in Congress.
Plaintiffs – three Virginia voters – sued the Commonwealth of Virginia, challenging the 2010 redistricting plan as a racial gerrymander in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution. A three-judge panel of the District Court of Virginia found that, in violation of the constitution, racial considerations were the Legislature’s predominant concerns in drawing the district and it was not necessary to draw the challenged plan to achieve a compelling governmental interest. In January, 2016, the District Court approved a remedial plan for redistricting.
Although the Commonwealth elected not to appeal the District Court’s decision, members of Virginia’s Congressional delegation chose to intervene and then appeal. In addition to raising questions regarding the merits of the case and whether the redistricting plan was constitutional, the appeal also raised questions regarding when a party has standing to intervene.