The U.S. Supreme Court has denied a request for a stay in the ongoing Virginia legislative redistricting case after Speaker of the House of Delegates Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) petitioned the high court to move back the 2019 primaries as the case, set to be heard in March, may change district boundaries after they are redrawn by the court-appointed special master. The order was issued Tuesday, two days ahead of a scheduled lower court hearing in Richmond on new state legislative maps that were released in December, and one day before the beginning of the 45-day General Assembly session.
Although Virginia House of Delegates v. Bethune-Hill will be heard in the spring, this is its second trip to the Supreme Court.
In 2017, the Supreme Court concluded that the lower court had applied the wrong legal standard when it rejected the plaintiffs’ claims that 12 districts in the Richmond and Hampton Roads metropolitan areas were unconstitutionally racially gerrymandered. The justices upheld one of the 12 districts, but sent the case back to the lower court to re-analyze the other 11.
Regardless, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia struck down the House legislative map from 2011, which garnered bipartisan support then, even from the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus.
According to a report from SCOTUS Blog, the order indicated only that Chief Justice John Roberts, who handles emergency appeals within the District of Columbia Circuit, which includes Virginia, had referred the request to the full court, but the request was denied.
As the decision on the revamped map will be made at the end of the week, some Virginia legislators will contend with the possibility of vast differences in party demographics in their districts. For example, two of the most powerful Republicans in the House of Delegates – Speaker Cox and House Appropriations Chairman Chris Jones (R-Suffolk) – may face much tougher campaigns in the 2019 election cycle if the changes are adopted by the Commonwealth.
Redistricting is one of several top issues that is set to dominate the 2019 General Assembly session after the impasse between both parties in the House of Delegates consumed much of last year.