Saturday, March 04, 2017

13.2 - Good News: voting rights victory in Virginia

Good News: voting rights victory in Virginia

Next up for Good News is another court victory, this one about voting rights.

First, I have to say that every time I do a story about voting rights, I recall not long ago concern was how few people voted, how low voter turnout was, and the question was how we could get more people registered and to the polls. Now, all the stories seems to be about attempts to keep people from voting - because the rightwing knows that the fewer people who vote, the better they do.

Anyway. Virginia's rightwing-dominated state legislature drew up new legislative districts, designed - of course - to maximize the likelihood that they will contine to dominate.

Supporters of voting rights and racial justice sued the state, arguing that 12 of the state House of Delegates districts were unconstitutional racial gerrymanders.

They lost in federal district court, which said Virginia did not impermissibly use race in determining the districts because the map didn't flagrantly violate other traditional redistricting criteria like compactness, so it wasn't immediately obvious that race "predominated" the decision-making process.

On March 1, the US Supreme Court overturned that decision, telling the district court it had applied the wrong standard. Simply put, it told the lower court that if a district is racially gerrymandered to limit minority voting power, then that district is unconstitutional even if it doesn't violate other traditional rules. The Court did say one of the 12 districts was legally drawn but the other 11 required reconsideration.

It sent the case back to be reconsidered under the correct standard.

One court-watcher sort of dismissed the decision as a punt and said not much has changed since upon reexamination the district court could find there was no disparate racial impact. But I think - as do some others - that analysis misses an important point: Without getting into the weeds of the case, what's important here, for Virginia and for other states as well, is that the Supreme Court has reaffirmed that showing a racially discriminatory impact is sufficient; there is no need to get over the extremely high barrier of showing racially discriminatory intent. That could well make it easier to challenge racially gerrymanded districts in other places.

What was most striking about the decision is that it was, if you will, 6-1-1 and no one, it appears, disputed the central point about the legal standard involved. Kennedy, who wrote the opinion, was joined by Roberts, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan, with Alito and Thomas concurring with the judgment but dissenting from either some part of it or of the opinion.

The reactionaries' efforts to restrict our right to vote continue unabated. But at least here is one clear line in the sand on one aspect. And that is Good News.

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