Galveston County's Redistricting Plan Faces Legal Challenges Over Voting Rights Act Compliance

Elliott Greene
Published on December 09, 2023

In a contentious decision, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has hit pause on a mandate that would have forced Galveston County, Texas, to redraw its commissioners court districts in compliance with the Voting Rights Act, as reported by the Houston Chronicle. Voting rights advocates argue that the current district maps violate Section 2 of the Act by diluting the voting strength of black and Latino communities.

The dispute stems from accusations that the 2024 election map undermines minority voters' influence and that the current map practically guarantees the ouster of Commissioner Stephen Holmes, who is black and represents the county's sole majority-minority district. But County Judge Mark Henry has defended the 5th Circuit's stay on the lower court's order, stating, "The Fifth Circuit correctly decided that changing election maps too close to an election would confuse voters," according to the Houston Chronicle.

However, Mark Gaber, the senior director for redistricting at the Campaign Legal Center, called the appellate court's move unprecedented and contradictory to past Supreme Court advice against making late electoral changes. In an emergency appeal, the plaintiffs have hit back with a request to the U.S. Supreme Court to lift the 5th Circuit's pause, a request that remains pending as per details from Democracy Docket.

The ongoing legal battle captures a broader debate over the interpretation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. While the 5th Circuit ruling is divided, judges in opposition like Stephen Higginson have underscored the well-established notion that minority groups can file combined vote-dilution claims. In his dissent, Higginson noted, "it is settled law in our own circuit that nothing in the history or text of the Voting Rights Act prevents members of multiple-minority groups from filing a vote-dilution claim together." This was mirrored in an extensive district court opinion, which the majority did not dispute, pointing to the discriminatory nature of the county's redistricting project, as reported by Democracy Docket.