A federal judicial panel ordered a new map after ruling that lawmakers in the Virginia General Assembly in 2011 racially gerrymandered 11 state House districts by packing black voters into them. The redistricting plan aimed to have the districts be at least 55 percent black, according to published reports.
The Republican lawmakers had asked for the lower court’s efforts to be blocked at least until after the Supreme Court holds oral arguments in the next few months on the larger constitutional issues raised by the racial gerrymander claim.
Republicans said having a lower court approve a new map only to have it discarded later by the Supreme Court would confuse voters and candidates.
Besides the racial gerrymander claims, the Supreme Court is set to address whether GOP members of the legislative body — as opposed to the state attorney general — have standing to appeal the lower court’s decision that race was indeed the primary factor driving the district boundaries.
Virginia Speaker of the House Kirk Cox, who with other House Republicans made the request to the high court, told The Daily Press in a statement, “Obviously we hoped for a stay but the court’s decision was not unexpected because the burden for a stay is very high.”
Cox added that Republicans were optimistic that the Supreme Court would decided to uphold the redrawn map.
House Democratic spokeswoman Kathryn Gilley praised the Supreme Court ruling.
“Despite House Republicans’ constant attempts to delay the redistricting and defend their unconstitutional districts, Virginians will be able to vote in constitutional elections,” she said in a statement to The Daily Press.
The fate of the legislative map, however, will affect only the 2019 state election. The U.S. census will generate new data in 2020, which may require lines to be redrawn to reflect further demographic changes.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.