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U.S. Justice Department sues Galveston County over new Commissioners Court maps

The Biden administration is suing Galveston County officials for allegedly discriminating against people of color when officials redrew political boundaries for the Commissioners Court.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday, alleges county officials redrew precinct maps in a way that denies Black and Hispanic voters an “equal opportunity to participate in the political process and elect their candidates of choice,” according to the complaint.

That’s a violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, the filing states, and was done, in part, for discriminatory purposes. The Galveston County Commissioners Court and County Judge Mark Henry are named as defendants. The lawsuit was first reported by CNN.

The lawsuit states that the commissioners court redrew the boundaries of Precinct 3, which is the county’s only precinct where Hispanic and Black voters are the majority and combine for more than 60 % of the voting-age population, according to U.S. Census data included in the complaint. As Houston Public Media reported during the 2021 redistricting process, the new map would likely mean the current Precinct 3 County Commissioner — Stephen Holmes, who is Black and the court’s only Democrat — would lose his seat.

A spokesperson for the county judge told Houston Public Media the office doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

The new maps completely undid the current Precinct 3 and moved it inland. The adopted map “moved a substantial portion of the Black and Hispanic voters in existing precinct 3 into three other commissioners court precincts,” the lawsuit states. It also alleges that Holmes was excluded from discussions about the pending changes during the redistricting process, as was the public at large.

“Publicly available meeting minutes and agendas contain no record of the commissioners court holding any meetings, executive sessions, workshops, or public hearings about the redistricting process or considering any proposed commissioners court plans between this April 5 meeting and a November 12, 2021, special session, during which the commissioners court voted to adopt the final commissioners court plan for the 2021 redistricting cycle,” the filing states, adding that: “Commissioner Holmes … has stated that throughout the 2021 redistricting process, he was excluded from discussions with Defendant [County Judge] Henry and the other commissioners.”

When the map was adopted in November, Holmes vowed to fight back, Houston Public Media reported.

“We are not going to go quietly [into] the night," Holmes said. "We are going to rage, rage, rage until justice is done."

Thursday’s lawsuit isn’t the first time the federal government has accused Galveston County of trying to dilute the voting strength of minority voters. The lawsuit states that the U.S. Attorney General also intervened when the county’s presented its proposed political boundaries in 1992 for justices of the peace and constable districts. The federal government did so again in 2012 when it objected to the proposed boundaries for justices of the peace, constables and commissioners court districts.

In November the Biden administration sued Texas claiming Senate Bill 1, a voting omnibus bill passed by the Texas Legislature last year, would disenfranchise eligible Texans, KUT reported. In a separate lawsuit filed in December, the Biden administration alleged state lawmakers discriminated against people of color when the Texas Legislature redrew maps for legislative districts following the 2020 U.S. Census.
Copyright 2022 The Texas Newsroom

Julián Aguilar
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