GALVESTON COUNTY, TEXAS – In a major win last week, a federal court in Texas refused to ignore Galveston County residents who said they were harmed by new maps created during a 2021 county commissioners precinct redistricting process — among their claims were racial discrimination, racial gerrymandering and vote dilution.
On March 30, 2023, United States District Court Judge Jeffrey Brown denied Galveston County’s motion to dismiss the case, allowing the case to proceed toward trial. The opinion noted that, at this stage, the history of racial discrimination in the county, the barriers to public participation, and the exclusion of the county’s sole Black commissioner, Stephen Holmes, all pointed to intentional dilution of Black and Latino voting power in the County.
“We are encouraged by the Court’s decision to let the case move forward,” said Adrianne Spoto, Voting Rights Legal Fellow at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ). “Black and Latino communities in Galveston deserve to have fair maps and an equal opportunity to make their voices heard.”
The Galveston County Commissioners Court redrew its precinct lines in 2021, eliminating Precinct 3, the only precinct in the county where Black and Latino residents could elect their candidate of choice, in a process that happened largely behind closed doors and without adequate public input. Under the new map, white voters would have control of all four commissioner precincts and the county judge seat, even though Black and Latino residents make up about 45% of the county’s total population and an even larger share of the county’s population growth over the last decade.
The Commissioners Court passed the map during a single, crowded public hearing, over opposition from Black and Latino community members along with Commissioner Holmes, whom the other commissioners had excluded from the decision-making process.
“Commissioner Holmes offered two alternative maps that would have complied with federal one-person-one-vote standards while preserving Precinct 3 as an opportunity Precinct,” Brown’s order states. “The other commissioners refused to consider or vote on Commissioner Holmes’s proposals.”
SCSJ, alongside the Texas Civil Rights Project, Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP, and Spencer & Associates, PLLC, represents three Galveston County residents — Edna Courville, Joe Compian, and Leon Phillips — along with the local branches of the NAACP and LULAC, all of whom oppose the discriminatory precinct lines.
“The blatant racial gerrymandering by the Galveston County Commissioner’s Court is illegal, and we look forward to continuing our case before the court that the county’s maps must be redrawn,” said Sarah Xiyi Chen, attorney for the Voting Rights Program at the Texas Civil Rights Project. “The County makes decisions that greatly impact the lives of residents, and Galveston’s Black and Latino populations have a right to a precinct where they can elect their preferred candidate to represent them on the County Commissioner’s Court. We are fighting to ensure that their voices are heard and Galveston County’s maps provide them fair representation.”
Andy Li, SCSJ | email@example.com
Leticia Rojas, TCRP | firstname.lastname@example.org
The Southern Coalition for Social Justice, founded in 2007, partners with communities of color and economically disadvantaged communities in the South to defend and advance their political, social, and economic rights through the combination of legal advocacy, research, organizing and communications. Learn more at southerncoalition.org and follow our work on Twitter and Facebook.
The Texas Civil Rights Project is boldly serving the movement for equality and justice in and out of the courts. We use our tools of litigation and legal advocacy to protect and advance the civil rights of everyone in Texas, and we partner with communities across the state to serve the rising movement for social justice. We undertake our work with a vision of a Texas in which all communities can thrive with dignity, justice and without fear.