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Supreme Court rules Virginia lawmakers didn't have the right to appeal redistricting

Libby Nelson is Vox's policy editor, leading coverage of how government action and inaction shape American life. Libby has more than a decade of policy journalism experience, including at Inside Higher Ed and Politico. She joined Vox in 2014.

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Monday that a group of Virginia Republican lawmakers appealing over a court-ordered redistricting plan didn't have the legal standing to bring their case. This ends a long argument over redrawing Virginia's third congressional district without implying that incumbent lawmakers have the right to a fair shot at reelection.

The case, Wittman v. Personhuballah, dealt with the argument around Virginia's 3rd congressional district, redrawn as part of the state's redistricting in 2012. The new boundaries drawn by the state legislature slightly increased the share of black voters in the district, which is heavily Democratic, from 53 percent to 56 percent.

A federal trial court ruled that this was racial gerrymandering — that the Republican-dominated state legislature was drawing boundaries based on voters' races, which isn't allowed, rather than for other, permitted purposes, such as protecting incumbents. And after the Virginia legislature couldn't agree on how to redraw the district, the court did it for them.

But in the process, the court turned a Republican-dominated neighboring district into a Democratic-leaning one.

Eight Republican members of Congress sued, arguing that the court shouldn't have redrawn the district because the version from the 2012 was constitutional. But it wasn't clear if they had the right to sue. The state, now governed by a Democrat, isn't defending its original redistricting plan, and Rep. Bobby Scott, who represents the redrawn district, didn't sue.

One of the members of Congress represented a district near the redrawn district that went from a safe seat to an uphill battle for Republicans after the court redrew the boundaries.

So the Supreme Court case, nominally about the boundaries of a Virginia district, raised another question: Should a politician get to sue over a redistricting plan that makes it harder for him to get reelected?

The Court decided unanimously that none of the Republican members of Congress challenging the Virginia district have the standing to do so, because they can't prove that the new boundaries actually harmed them.

The decision means the court-drawn boundaries of Virginia's third district stand.

Watch: Gerrymandering, explained

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