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Activists holding signs for voting rights in front of Galveston County Courthouse, representing the ongoing struggle for justice and equality in voting practices.
Civil rights advocates rally for voting rights outside the historic Galveston County Courthouse symbolizing the fight for fair electoral representation

Galveston County Redistricting: A Test for Voting Rights Protections

By Darius Spearman (africanelements)

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Galveston County’s recent redistricting has sparked a legal battle. The once majority-minority Precinct 3, home to a significant Black and Latino population, was dismantled in 2021. Consequently, these communities were split, creating four majority-white districts (Source: Capital B News).

The Impact of Redistricting on Minority Voters

This redrawing reduced the Black and Latino electorate from 58% to just 38.6% in the new Precinct 3 (Source: NY Post). Such actions prompted the U.S. Justice Department to file a lawsuit. They claimed this was a direct violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, aiming to protect minority voting rights (Source: Campaign Legal).

Legal Battles and the Court’s Response

Moreover, the issue escalated quickly. A Trump-appointed judge ruled the redistricting plan a “clear violation” of the Voting Rights Act. He described the act as “stark,” “egregious,” and “mean-spirited” (Source: NY Post). His ruling demanded that the county draw new maps. However, Galveston County didn’t back down; they appealed the decision.

The 5th Circuit’s Role and Broader Implications

Now, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals plays a crucial role. As they review the case, the future of coalition districts hangs in the balance. The full circuit heard oral arguments on May 14, 2024 (Source: Houston Public Media). The court’s decision could set a precedent affecting coalition districts across the South.

Texas Redistricting: A History of Contention and Change

The history of redistricting in Texas is marked by decades of legal battles, racial tensions, and significant shifts in political power. Each cycle brings new challenges and controversies.

Visual timeline depicting major events in Texas redistricting from 1845 to 1965, including the enactment of original districts and the implementation of the Voting Rights Act.
Texas Redistricting Timeline Key Changes from 1845 to 1965

Early Moves and Racial Barriers

Initially, Texas redistricted with every census, adapting to population changes. However, from 1876 through the 1960s, control was in the hands of a white Democratic establishment that used tactics like the white primary to suppress minority participation (Source: Texas Politics).

Shifts from the 1960s to 1980s

Starting in the 1960s, demographic changes and federal civil rights enforcement began to disrupt old patterns. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 introduced preclearance requirements, making Texas seek federal approval for any changes. Since then, Texas has been found in violation of the VRA in every redistricting cycle (Source: Ballotpedia).

Detailed timeline chart showing Texas redistricting events from the 1990s through 2021, highlighting Supreme Court rulings and new map challenges.
Recent History of Texas Redistricting 1990s to 2021

Legal Battles in the 1990s

The 1990s saw intense legal scrutiny over Texas’s redistricting. Federal courts had to impose interim maps due to disputes. Notably, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down several congressional districts as racial gerrymanders in the landmark case, Bush v. Vera (Source: Senate MN).

The 2000s: Republican Control and Mid-Decade Redistricting

In 2003, a new phase began when Republicans, controlling the legislature, redrew congressional districts mid-decade. Most of the plan survived scrutiny in LULAC v. Perry, except for one district which violated the VRA (Source: Texas Tribune).

The 2010s and the Impact of Shelby County v. Holder

After the 2010 census, Texas faced another round of legal challenges. Preclearance was still a hurdle until the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder. This ruling effectively ended the preclearance requirement, altering the landscape of Texas redistricting (Source: Texas Tribune).

The Ongoing Battles of the 2020s

The latest maps, drawn in 2021, have sparked lawsuits claiming they dilute minority voting power. These maps are currently in use, pending ongoing litigation which could take years to resolve (Source: Democracy Docket). Thus, the story of Texas redistricting continues to be one of conflict, court battles, and crucial implications for voter representation.

The Future of Voting Rights in Galveston County

Ultimately, the outcome of this case could influence who controls Congress post-2024. Civil rights advocates warn that an adverse ruling could weaken the Voting Rights Act significantly (Source: Capital B News). This case not only tests the strength of Voting Rights Act protections but also shapes the political landscape far beyond Texas.

About the author

Darius Spearman is a professor of Black Studies at San Diego City College since 2007. He has authored several books, including Between The Color Lines: A History of African Americans on the California Frontier Through 1890. You can visit Darius online at africanelements.org.