Bethune-Hill v Virginia Board of Elections

Bethune-Hill and other voters appealed the three judge district court panel’s ruling that 12 Virginia state legislative districts with majority African American population were constitutional. The Court, with one justices concurring in part and in judgment and one justice concurring in judgment in part and dissenting in part, affirmed in part and reversed and remanded in part. The majority held that the panel erred in requiring a preliminary showing a conflict with traditional redistricting principles as the governing rule under recent Court precedent is plaintiffs must demonstrate that race was the predominant factor in drawing district lines. It did note that districts deviating from traditional practice is circumstantial evidence of racial predominance. It also held that the panel erred in limiting its racial analysis to those boundary areas where the conflict with traditional practice was attributable to race instead of to the whole district. As the panel decision on 11 districts was done under the incorrect standards, remand was necessary as to those districts for analysis under the correct standard in the first instance. As to the 12th district, the majority held that the legislature’s good faith belief that it needed to consider race to avoid violating the Voting Rights Act prohibition on changes which will lessen a minority groups chances of electing its desired candidate (retrogression ban) and the legislature’s determination that African-Americans need to be 55% of the effective voting population was supported by good reasons and thus satisfies strict scrutiny. Justice Alito concurred in part an in judgment agreeing that the 12th district in question was constitutional and agreeing with the remand but arguing all the districts must satisfy strict scrutiny. Justice Thomas concurred n judgment in part and dissented in part agreeing with the remand as to the 11 districts, but, arguing that all the districts must satisfy strict scrutiny as Board conceded the legislature’s predominate motivation was race and argued the 12th district does not satisfy strict scrutiny because complying with the Voting Rights Act ban on retrogression is not a compelling interest as the ban is unconstitutional and no narrow tailoring occurred here as there was no rigorous analysis of what percentage of African American effective voting was actually necessary to avoid retrogression and the incumbent was not proven to be the candidate of choice and may have sought a greater minority population than necessary.