WASHINGTON D.C. — Members of Congress cannot intervene to challenge or defend a legislative districting plan when they fail to show a court how the lines would impact the election chances of those members, the Supreme Court unanimously held in Wittman v. Personhuballah on Monday.
Legislative lines are redrawn every ten years after the constitutionally required national census, to draw districts with equal populations within each state. Virginia adopted its plan after the 2010 census, but three voters from one federal district — Congressional District 3 — challenged it. The map primarily concerned the lines for Congressional District 3 and Congressional District 4.
A federal three-judge panel ruled in favor of the trio of voters, holding that the plan was a racial gerrymander and consequently invalidating the plan as unconstitutional. Three members of Congress intervened to defend the map: Randy Forbes, Robert Wittman, and David Brat, the Tea Party hero who defeated Eric Cantor.
They did so when Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring refused to defend his state. Not only has he refused to do so here, but previously refused to defend Virginia’s law defining marriage as between one man and one woman. He’s violating one of the principal duties of any state attorney general: To defend the laws of that state, just as the U.S. attorney general is charged with defending the laws of the United States. (Eric Holder infamously refused to do so when a federal law conflicted with the liberals’ agenda.)
As Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the Supreme Court in Wittman, “As relevant here, the intervenors argued in their supplemental brief that they had standing because the District Court’s order, if allowed to stand, would necessarily result in a redrawing of their districts that would harm some of the intervenors’ reelection prospects.”
This week, Roberts wrote for a unanimous Court, “We conclude that the intervenors now lack standing. We must therefore dismiss the appeal for lack of jurisdiction.”
Quoting the Constitution and numerous Supreme Court precedents, Roberts continued for all the justices:
Article III of the Constitution grants the federal courts the power to decide legal questions only in the presence of an actual Case or Controversy. This restriction requires a party invoking a federal court’s jurisdiction to demonstrate standing. A party has standing only if he shows that he has suffered an injury in fact, that the injury is fairly traceable to the conduct being challenged, and that the injury will likely be redressed by a favorable decision. The need to satisfy these three requirements persists throughout the life of the lawsuit.
Roberts went on to note that two of the three congressmen in this lawsuit did not place any evidence into the record about how this redistricting plan would hurt their reelection chances. The third, Forbes, made the case for why he would face an uphill battle in Congressional District 4, but the Court was informed after oral argument that Forbes had since decided to run in a different district — Congressional District 2 — regarding which he had not shown what harm he would suffer from the legislative map.
“We have made clear that the party invoking federal jurisdiction bears the burden of establishing that he has suffered an injury by submitting affidavits or other evidence,” Roberts wrote. “When challenged by a court (or by an opposing party) concerned about standing, the party invoking the court’s jurisdiction cannot simply allege a nonobvious harm, without more.”
Roberts explained that none of the three congressmen submitted any evidence that any of them would be personally harmed by the lines of Congressional District 3 and Congressional District 4, noting that none of those congressmen were running in either of those districtsmand are not associated with either district.
“Given the lack of evidence that any of the three Representatives has standing, we need not decide when, or whether, evidence of the kind of injury they allege would prove sufficient for purposes of Article III’s requirements,” Roberts wrote, dismissing the appeal.
By contrast, a state always has standing to defend its own map. The Supreme Court would have been able to rule on the merits of the case if Herring had defended Virginia’s law creating the map and might have ruled in favor of Virginia.
This case highlights the consequences of a state attorney general’s refusing to execute his duty to defend the laws of his state — in this case, to defend the constitutionality of a state’s legislative district lines, which determines who the elected officials are who make the laws under which all Americans live.
There is a growing trend of such refusals nationwide, mostly from Democratic attorneys general.
Ken Klukowski is a legal editor for Breitbart News. Follow him on Twitter @kenklukowski.