Federal appeals court blocks new Galveston County political map, while plaintiffs seek Supreme Court intervention

The U.S. 5th Circuit has stayed a district court’s order that the county adopt a new redistricting plan to comply with Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which bans racial gerrymandering.

5th Circuit
Jonathan Bachman/AP
5th Circuit

The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has blocked a new political map imposed on Galveston County by a lower court from taking effect. Plaintiffs are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene swiftly to ensure the county uses a map that complies with the Voting Rights Act.

Late Thursday, 5th Circuit issued a stay on the new map until May, when it plans to rehear the lawsuit challenging Galveston County's 2021 redistricting plan. A district court recently imposed the map on Galveston, having earlier ruled Galveston's 2021 redistricting plan violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which bans racial gerrymandering.

"This morning, we have filed an emergency application at the Supreme Court to both vacate the stay, and we've also asked the (U.S.) Supreme Court to take this case on the merits," said attorney Valencia Richardson of the Campaign Legal Center, who represents the plaintiffs in Petteway v. Galveston County. "So, the technical term for that is seeking certiorari before judgment."

The 2021 redistricting plan, adopted by the Galveston County Commissioners Court's Republican majority, broke up Commissioner Precinct 3 – the county's sole voting district with a nonwhite voting majority. Precinct 3 Commissioner Stephen Holmes, who is African American, is the only candidate who has filed to run for the position in the March 2024 Democratic Primary. The sole Republican candidate is Galveston County Treasurer Hank Dugie, whose job was just eliminated in a statewide constitutional referendum that Dugie himself endorsed.

Richardson believes the Petteway plaintiffs are on solid ground with their appeal, given a Supreme Court ruling earlier this year that upheld Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. "The court's recent decision in Allen v. Milligan affirmed 40 years of precedent, insofar that it affirmed that the Voting Rights Act still prohibits racial discrimination against racial minorities in the voting process," she said.