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Virginia Tech gerrymandering expert available to discuss Monday's U.S. Supreme Court hearing involving Virginia

December 4, 2016

Jason Kelly

Jason Kelly portrait
Jason Kelly

Virginia Tech gerrymandering expert Jason Kelly is available for interviews to discuss Monday’s U.S. Supreme Court oral arguments in Bethune-Hill v. Virginia Board of Elections, a case that focuses on whether Virginia’s Republican leaders deliberately set certain electoral districts to lessen the power of black voters by packing them into certain voting areas.

The case involves 12 plaintiffs: one resident for each Virginia House of Delegates district being challenged. Each district has a majority minority population.

Kelly, an assistant professor of political science, said Republicans don’t deny they drew the districts with the intent to ensure a black voting age population of at least 55 percent.

“In their briefs, Republicans rely heavily on the notion that when the legislative districts were drawn, there was a broad bipartisan consensus that the 12 districts with pre-existing majority-minority populations must be drawn such that they all have a black voting age population of at least a 55 percent,” Kelly said. “They contend further that they did not deviate from traditional redistricting principles — such as compactness and contiguousness — to achieve this threshold.”

The Republicans won a split 2-1 decision before a panel of lower federal court judges for all but one of the 12 districts.

But Kelly said the last term of the U.S. Supreme Court “seems to have provided Democrats with a strong leg to stand on in this current challenge to the 12 Virginia House of Delegate districts” in Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama.

In that case, the Supreme Court held that a lower federal court had erred in part in finding that predominantly black districts in a state covered by the Voting Rights Act must maintain a certain black voting age population percentage in those districts. The Supreme Court further held that the lower court had erred in applying an overly stringent standard for determining if race was, in fact, the predominant factor.

That may be relevant in Monday’s case involving Virginia.

In their brief, Democrats show that there was clearly a 55 percent black voting age population standard in mind when drawing each of these districts, Kelly said. 

“They also document how and where high concentrations of black voters were drawn into all 12 of these districts, either to maintain that 55 percent threshold or to make it easier for Republicans to win neighboring districts,” he said. 

“They then argue that the use of a fixed standard and how the boundaries were set demonstrates that race was the predominate factor when drawing these 12 districts. Given all of this and the U.S. Supreme Court’s holding in the Alabama case, Democrats contend that SCOTUS should overturn the lower court’s decision.”

Oral arguments in the case are set for Monday, December 5. Arguments in McCrory v. Harris, a separate but similar redistricting case stemming from North Carolina, are also set to be heard.

About Kelly

Kelly is an expert in American and judicial politics, the U.S. Congress, and political parties. His research includes exploring whether legislative redistricting creates electoral advantages and how the variance in redistricting procedures across states affects the degree to which congressional districts are gerrymandered to benefit one party over the other, as well as incumbents over their would-be challengers.

View his bio

Schedule an interview

To secure an interview with Kelly, contact Jordan Fifer in the Media Relations office at 540-231-6997.

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