U.S. justices rule against Virginia Republicans in black voters case

Security guards walk the steps of the Supreme Court in Washington in this file photo dated October 1, 2010. REUTERS/Larry Downing

By Lawrence Hurley WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Supreme Court on Monday let stand a lower court ruling that Virginia's Republican-led legislature unlawfully considered race when drawing U.S. congressional districts by packing black voters into one in a move opponents said diluted black electoral clout. The case focused on the composition of a majority-black U.S. House of Representatives district, stretching from Richmond to Norfolk, held by the only black member of Virginia's congressional delegation, Democrat Bobby Scott. The justices ruled 8-0 against a group of current and former Republican U.S. House members who challenged a June 2015 lower court ruling that invalidated the district's boundaries after several voters who lived there filed suit in 2013. Virginia's Democratic attorney general decided not to appeal the 2015 ruling, but the Republican lawmakers took up the case. The Supreme Court on Monday found that those lawmakers lacked legal standing to bring the case in part because they could not show they were harmed by the lower court decision. The voters who sued in 2013 said Scott's district was racially "gerrymandered" by state legislators in 2012 to cram black voters into it and reduce black influence in neighboring districts in violation of the U.S. Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of equal protection under the law. Michele Jawando, a lawyer with the liberal advocacy group Center for American Progress, called the ruling "good news not only for Virginia voters and voting advocates, but also for other states currently dealing with constitutional issues around their congressional district maps." "A just and fair democracy necessitates that all voters can access the ballot without worrying about political games and racial discrimination," Jawando added. Democrats have accused Republican legislators around the country of drawing electoral maps to minimize the influence of black and Hispanic voters, who tend to cast ballots for Democratic candidates. Republicans have accused Democrats in Democratic-led states of using the so-called redistricting process to minimize the clout of Republican-leaning voters. Following the 2015 ruling, the boundaries of an adjoining district, currently represented by white Republican Randy Forbes, were redrawn to add some black voters from Scott's district. This could make the district a possible Democratic pickup in the Nov. 8 election. Forbes is one of the Republicans who appealed to the Supreme Court. Two of the others, Robert Wittman and David Brat, said they had legal standing to bring the case because their chances of re-election would be reduced by having more Democratic voters in their districts. (Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)