In a short opinion that hints at compromise, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to allow Republican lawmakers to defend a Virginia districting map that had earlier been ruled racially discriminatory.
At issue was the state's 3rd Congressional District, which a lower court had determined was drawn unconstitutionally because it packed too many black voters into one district and thereby diluted black voting power overall. The 3rd District seat is held by Rep. Bobby Scott (D), currently the state's only African-American in Congress.
Virginia, which is now led by a Democratic governor, never appealed the lower court ruling. But three Republican congressmen did, arguing that the now-overturned redistricting plan should be reinstated because the redrawn map would harm their re-election prospects.
The new map was approved earlier this year by the same lower court that had found the original plan constituted an illegal racial gerrymander.
In a unanimous ruling written by Justice Stephen Breyer, the Supreme Court said the three lawmakers -- Reps. Randy Forbes, Rob Wittman and Dave Brat -- had failed to establish "standing" to intervene in the dispute because they couldn't show they had suffered any injury.
Forbes, who currently represents District 4, has chosen to switch over to District 2, which offers him a better chance of re-election. When the state redrew District 3, it shifted more black voters into District 4. Forbes had earlier claimed that change would turn District 4 into a "safe 60% Democratic district” if the Supreme Court didn't intervene.
But since Forbes isn't running in District 4 now, Breyer wrote that he couldn't "see how any injury that Forbes might have suffered ‘is likely to be redressed by a favorable judicial decision.'"
As for Wittman and Bratt, who represent Virginia's 1st and 7th congressional districts, the justices simply found no evidence that their legislative turf would be "flooded with Democratic voters" in a way that would lead to losses in November -- especially since the case centered on districts far removed from theirs.
The practical result of Monday's ruling is that the new congressional map will remain in effect heading into the 2016 election.
The minimalist ruling is also the third this term in an area, voting rights, where the Supreme Court has often clashed along ideological lines. The previous two were handed down in April, and all three have lacked major fireworks -- perhaps to avoid even splits or the appearance of partisanship in the wake of Justice Antonin Scalia's death.