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What Nomination? Business as Usual at Supreme Court

Federal appeals court judge Merrick Garland walks with President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden from the Oval Office to the Rose Garden to be introduced as Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court at the White House, in Washington on March 16, 2016.

It's business as usual at the Supreme Court this week, no matter that confirmation politics is on everyone's mind in Washington.

The justices are entering their second month of life without longtime Justice Antonin Scalia. They could be without a ninth colleague for many months.

The court may be the one place in Washington that takes no official notice of the nomination of Merrick Garland to fill Scalia's seat.

The justices try hard to steer clear of partisan politics, especially in this tumultuous election year. But they begin their week by hearing an appeal from current and former Republican members of Congress from Virginia.

The Republicans are asking the court to reinstate a congressional map drawn by state lawmakers.

A lower court threw out the map, concluding that lawmakers illegally packed black voters into one district to make adjacent districts safer for Republican incumbents. The dispute concerns Virginia's 3rd Congressional District, which is the only one in the state with a majority of African-American residents. Represented by Democrat Bobby Scott, the district runs from north of Richmond to the coastal cities of Norfolk and Newport News, and its shape has been described as a "grasping claw.''

Scott's seat is one of 11 congressional districts in Virginia. Republicans who controlled the state Legislature when the new map was drawn in 2012 created districts that elected eight Republicans and three Democrats. At the same time, Democrats carried Virginia in the past two presidential elections and hold both Senate seats and the governor's office.

The lower court has since drawn a new congressional map for use in this year's elections. Even before Scalia's death, Republicans failed to persuade the Supreme Court to delay the use of the new map while the case is under appeal.

Republican House members want to preserve the map as it was adopted because they fear that a redrawn map could water down minority strength in Scott's district and increase the number of Democratic-leaning black voters in neighboring Republican districts.

The justices also will consider whether the Republicans even have the right to bring their case after the state declined to continue defending the original congressional map.

The case is Wittman v. Personhuballah, 14-1504.