Voting

U.S. 5th Circuit sets Galveston County redistricting case appeal for May 2024

Plaintiffs in the case are seeking rapid intervention by the U.S. Supreme Court to force the county to redraw its political map in line with the Voting Rights Act. Stephen Holmes, the county commissioner at the center of the case, is up for reelection next year.

5th Circuit
Jonathan Bachman/AP

A federal appeals court says it will hear the redistricting case against Galveston County next year. Those suing the county are pressing for the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene quickly to force the county to revise its 2021 political map to comply with the Voting Rights Act.

The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals says that its full bench will review a lower court's ruling against Galveston County in May. That's well after the primary for the Galveston County voting district at the center of the case formally known as Petteway v. Galveston County.

Meanwhile, the appeals court has extended a stay on a lower court's order that says the county must redraw its map.

"We have a district court order that says that the enacted plan violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act," said attorney Valencia Richardson of the Campaign Legal Center.

Plaintiffs are once again asking the Supreme Court to vacate the 5th Circuit's stay, noting the deadline to file for the primary is December 11. "There's no reason why a new, nondiscriminatory map can't be in place while this appeals process is ongoing," Richardson said.

The Republican majority on Galveston County’s commissioners court adopted a new political map in 2021 that eliminated the one precinct in which Black and Latino voters constituted a majority. That precinct's commissioner – Stephen Holmes, who is Black and a Democrat – is up for reelection next year.

Attorneys for the county argued that Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits racial gerrymandering, does not guarantee districts to represent coalitions of voters. Judge Jeffrey Brown disagreed. In October, he ordered the county to redraw its map to comply with federal law. A three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit upheld the lower court's finding of racial gerrymandering, but it stayed Brown's order to redraw the map.

In a statement to Houston Public Media, Galveston County Judge Mark Henry said, "We're pleased the 5th Circuit has vacated its earlier decision and is going to hear this case en banc. We are hopeful that the court will overrule its prior decisions on coalition districts and will follow the precedent some other circuits in the U.S. currently follow."