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Supreme Court to take up racial gerrymandering case

The U.S. Supreme Court will take up the issue of whether a dozen of Virginia's General Assembly districts were racially gerrymandered in order to dilute the voting power of African-Americans statewide.

In an order issued Monday, the court noted it has "probable jurisdiction" in the case, Bethune-Hill v. Virginia State Board of Elections, meaning it will set a schedule for filing briefs in the case, as well as for oral arguments.

In October 2015, a three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the lawsuit, stating the 12 challenged districts "withstands constitutional scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause."

Last month, the high court refused to hear an appeal of a challenge to Virginia's congressional district boundaries.

Those lines have been redrawn by a court-appointed "special master," shifting the racial make-up of the 4th Congressional District enough so voters there could elect the state's second African-American member of Congress this November.

The 4th District's longtime Republican incumbent, Rep. Randy Forbes, declined to seek re-election in the district, and is instead seeking the GOP nomination in the neighboring 2nd District.

Second District incumbent Rep. Scott Rigell, (R-Virginia Beach) is retiring from the House.

House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) said he is "confident that upon review the Supreme Court will affirm the lower court ruling" in the Bethune-Hill case.

"The Eastern District Court evaluated the districts in question on a case-by-case basis and found that each district withstood constitutional scrutiny," Howell said.

"The Eastern District Court's ruling shows that the House districts were drawn in accordance with the Constitution, all state and federal laws, and in a fair and open process."

Marc Elias, who unsuccessfully argued the Bethune-Hill case in the lower courts, and who also currently serves as general counsel for Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, noted on his Twitter feed he was "Very happy that SCOTUS decided to hear this 2nd [Virginia] redistricting case. Important not to let GOPers use the [Voting Rights Act] as excuse to harm [African-American] voters."