The Texas Civil Rights Project (TCRP) and Southern Coalition for Social Justice on Thursday filed a lawsuit against Galveston County over its apparent “intentional racial discrimination” when proposing and adopting its redistricting map. The suit comes just three weeks after the Department of Justice filed a similar lawsuit against Galveston County in which the agency claims “the 2021 redistricting plan for the county’s governing body violates Section 2 because it has the discriminatory result of denying Black and Hispanic citizens an equal opportunity to participate in the political process and because the new map was adopted, in part with a discriminatory purpose.” Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which explicitly bars discriminatory voting practices based on race, is similarly cited in the TCRP lawsuit.
TCRP attorney Sarah Chen, who is a Skadden Fellow with the organization, detailed the shadowy proceedings that brought forth the redistricting map itself. “In our monitoring, we saw that Galveston County, unlike many others in Texas, had not released public information about the timeline they were going to redistrict, their redistricting criteria, any public meetings that would be scheduled,” Chen told Daily Kos. “There was no public hearing set until the very last day before Texas counties were supposed to adopt their redistricting maps, the day before candidate filing deadline for 2022 elections’ primaries. Filing opened on Nov. 13th, while the hearing was held on the 12th. It was announced just 72 hours before, as is legally required, but held in smaller building than was typical.”
Despite its small venue size and hastily announced date and time, hundreds of people attended the meeting and dozens made their voices heard. They made it apparent that they were unhappy with the direction the majority-white commissioners were heading with their proposed redistricting maps, one of which would carve away at the only opportunity district in the county, thereby threatening Commissioner Stephen Holmes’—the only Black Democrat on the commissioners court—seat. Another map would effectively eliminate Holmes’ district altogether. Despite the citizens’ protest, the map that consolidated the precinct was adopted by a vote of 3-1, with Holmes being the only dissenting vote.
“Even though Galveston County is 45% minority, every single member of the Galveston County Commissioners Court, under the new map, is going to be Anglo,” Holmes said at the time. “Minorities would not be represented by, or have the opportunity to elect, the candidate of their choice.”
Galveston County has a troubling history of putting forth redistricting maps that don’t adequately represent marginalized voters. Back before the Supreme Court struck down a pre-clearance measure in 2013, areas like Galveston were required to have Justice Department approval of proposed voting practices prior to them taking effect to ensure that, say, redistricting did not eliminate opportunity districts. As CNN notes, just one decade ago the Justice Department used that pre-clearance measure to strike down a redistricting map that disenfranchised marginalized voters in Galveston County. Just one year after the SCOTUS case was decided, Galveston County again tried its hand at adopting an inadequate redistricting map.
Chen said that, while Galveston County represents one of the more overt cases of voting rights violations, “this is absolutely an example of what we’re seeing across Texas and other parts of the country where people in power are using it to consolidate more power and to disempower people who have historically been disenfranchised.” TCRP and Chen’s team are hard at work fighting many other measures enacted in Texas that would make it harder for voters’ voices to be heard, including SB1, which led to the invalidation of record numbers of ballots during the state’s recent primary. A trial over that law is set to begin in July.