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The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas ruled this morning that the redistricting plan used by the governing body of Galveston County, Texas, known as the Commissioners Court, violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. The court held that the County’s plan denies Black and Latino voters an equal opportunity to participate in the political process and to elect a candidate of their choice.
“This decision demonstrates that the Justice Department is vigorously enforcing the Voting Rights Act in communities across the country,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “The court recognized that the Galveston County Commissioners Court redistricting plan deprived the county’s Black and Latino voters of an equal opportunity to participate in the political process and elect a candidate of their choice. The Justice Department will continue to stand up for the right of every eligible citizen to vote and to have that vote counted.”
“This ruling should send a clear message that all jurisdictions, whether at the state or local level, must comply with the Voting Rights Act,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The Voting Rights Act stands as one of our most important civil rights laws that protects the ability of communities of color to participate in the political process and have an equal opportunity to elect candidates of choice. As the court made clear, this is not a typical redistricting case. Even though there was no need to do so, the commissioners court eliminated Black and Latino voters’ opportunity to have a voice on that body. As the district court correctly found, destroying the only district with a majority of Black and Latino residents is a blatant violation of the Voting Rights Act.”
“The right to vote is one of the fundamental rights in our democracy, a right guaranteed irrespective of race or ethnicity, said U.S. Attorney Alamdar Hamdani for the Southern District of Texas. “This decision protects the rights of Black and Latino voters in Galveston County and affords them an equal opportunity to have a voice on the Galveston County Commissioners’ Court consistent with federal law.”
The court held that the county’s plan prevents Black and Latino voters from electing a candidate of choice in any district. In particular, the court found that county eliminated an existing district where such an opportunity had existed for decades. The court observed that doing so was “mean-spirited” and “egregious” given that there was no reason to make major changes to the district as it had previously existed. The court concluded that the County’s elimination of that district extinguished the Black and Latino communities’ voice on its commissioners court. It does so even though these two groups comprise 38% of the total population in Galveston County.
Because candidate qualifying for Galveston County’s 2024 elections is fast approaching, the County has until Oct. 20 to enact a redistricting plan that contains at least one district that provides Black and Latino voters with an equal opportunity to elect a candidate of choice to the county governing body. If the county prefers not to submit a revised plan, the court has ordered it to implement a redistricting plan presented by the United States on or before Nov. 1.
The court’s ruling comes following a bench trial earlier this year that lasted from Aug. 7 through 18. The redistricting plan at issue in the case was adopted by the county on Nov. 12, 2021, after release of the data from the 2020 Census. The Justice Department filed its complaint against Galveston County in March 2022.
Complaints about discriminatory practices may be reported to the Civil Rights Division through its internet reporting portal at www.civilrights.justice.gov or by calling (800) 253-3931.
Additional information about the Civil Rights Division’s work to uphold and protect the voting rights of all Americans is available on the Justice Department’s website at www.justice.gov/crt/voting-section.