GALVESTON, TX – Black and Brown residents of Galveston County packed a federal court this week as civil rights groups began a trial this week on an alleged racially discriminatory and gerrymandered voting map
Attorneys from Texas Civil Rights Project (TCRP) and Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) made opening statements and introduced evidence before United States District Court Judge Jeffrey Brown in Petteway v. Galveston County, where they argued the Galveston County Commissioners intentionally discriminated against the growing minority population and split up the only majority-minority district with new maps in 2021.
“The community was not heard in the 2021 redistricting process,” said Sarah Xiyi Chen (she/her), Attorney for the Voting Rights Program at TCRP. “But they will be heard in this courtroom, and for that we are grateful.”
The lawsuit was filed in 2022 by TCRP, SCSJ, Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP, and Spencer & Associates, PLLC on behalf of three Galveston-area branches of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (“NAACP”) and the local council for the League of United Latin American Citizens (“LULAC”), as well as three individual civil rights leaders Edna Courville, Joe A. Compian, and Leon Phillips. The lawsuit has been consolidated with similar suits by the U.S. Department of Justice and by other civil rights groups on behalf of local leaders Terry Petteway, Penny Pope, and Derreck Rose.
Two witnesses testified during the first day of trial- Rose, a Constable of Galveston County Precinct 3 and Plaintiff in the matter, and Lucille McGaskey, a longtime Galveston resident and community activist.
Rose, who is Black, said he believed the 2021 maps were racially discriminatory and criticized the commissioners for the one public meeting held on the maps. He said the meeting room was incredibly small, forcing dozens of attendees to stand in the hallway, and they had no mics. Attornies played clips from the meeting, where more than 30 impassioned residents voiced their frustration with the meeting’s conduct.
Rose also spoke to the racial discrimination he had experienced both as a lifelong resident of Galveston County and as a law enforcement officer.
McGaskey, who is also Black, spoke about her extensive community service in the area through organizations such as Gulf Coast Interfaith. She said throughout her work in Galveston County, she has seen a distinct parallel between the needs and interests of the local Black and Latino community.
In reference to the public comment hearing, McGaskey said in previous years, the commissioners held multiple meetings across the county. In 2021, commissioners only held one meeting one day before the new maps were due to the Secretary of State.
Over the course of the week, at least five more witnesses testified about segregation and racial discrimination in voting in Galveston, the 2021 redistricting process, legal precedent impacting the case, partisan versus racial divides, and mapping statistics and results.
Edna Courville, another plaintiff and longstanding member of the NAACP, testified Wednesday about a lot of the historical context of the case. She spoke about issues at voting access issues at Carver Park, a cornerstone of the county’s Black community.
Redistricting expert Bill Cooper testified Thursday at the trial, describing the cracking of the Black and Latino voters in the challenged map an “an extreme and textbook example of racial gerrymandering.”
“I’m hard pressed to think of any case I’ve ever been involved in where a municipality appeared so determined just to decimate a majority-minority district,” Cooper reportedly said.
Cooper said he has worked in more than 750 jurisdictions and testified more than 55 times in federal court.
Kassra Oskooii, a racially polarized voting and political science professor at the University of Delaware, also testified on Thursday, speaking on his analysis of voting patterns in Galveston County. He said his research showed “exactly zero out of 100 times does a Black- and Latino-preferred candidate win under the adopted 2021 commissioner precinct boundaries.”
Petteway follows the historic decision in Allen v. Milligan, in which the Supreme Court struck down racially discriminatory maps in Alabama, and specifically preserved Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.
The trial is expected to continue for about another week.