Adkins v. Virginia Redistricting Commission (Amicus)

Location: Virginia
Status: Closed (Judgment)
Last Update: September 22, 2021

In 2021, A Virginia state legislator and individual voters filed a mandamus petition in the Supreme Court of Virginia challenging the statutory criteria for redistricting passed in House Bill 1255 a year after the Virginia voters approved a constitutional amendment establishing an independent redistricting commission. Among other requirements, H.B. 1255 ended “prison gerrymandering,” or the practice of counting incarcerated people in the districts where they are incarcerated for the purposes of redistricting and reapportionment. The practice artificially inflates the political power of disproportionately rural districts that have opted to build prisons at the expense of the disproportionately urban and suburban, and far more diverse, districts from which incarcerated people hail.

Petitioners argued that the redistricting commission cannot use any of the statutory criteria in H.B. 1255 when they redraw districts because the Constitutional Amendment passed by referendum in 2020 laid out the exclusive criteria for redistricting.

The ACLU and ACLU of Virginia filed an amicus brief on behalf of the ACLU of Virginia itself, the League of Women Voters of Virginia, and the National Black Nonpartisan Redistricting Organization filed an amicus brief in support of the Redistricting Commission. Amici defended the statutory criteria, and particularly the ban on prison gerrymandering, by explaining that the 2020 Amendment required that the Commission look outside of the Constitution for additional redistricting criteria, including to “federal and state statutes that address racial and ethnic fairness,” which H.B. 1255 promoted. They further argued that even if the Court did not agree that H.B. 1255 promoted these criteria, it did not implicate the 2020 Amendment because it affects the population base for districting rather than the process of drawing lines. And the only two other Statutory Factors that Petitioners claimed conflict with the 2020 Amendment merely incorporate standards recognized under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965—a statute explicitly incorporated into the 2020 Amendment as a districting factor. The brief also highlighted the anti-democratic and racially disproportionate effects of prison gerrymandering.

In 2021, the Supreme Court of Virginia dismissed the case, holding it did not meet the standards for granting a writ of mandamus.

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