U.S. Fifth Circuit of Appeals Hears Galveston, TX Redistricting Case With Implications for Fair Representation and the Voting Rights Act


Today, the entire U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit heard oral argument in Petteway v. Galveston County, TX — a case challenging discriminatory, “mean-spirited” and “egregious” voting districts passed in Galveston that silence Black and Latino voters and threaten to undermine a component of the federal Voting Rights Act (VRA).

In 2021, Campaign Legal Center (CLC), the UCLA Voting Rights Project and Neil Baron joined the ongoing redistricting fight, which began in 2013, to represent Galveston County voters against racial discrimination by Galveston County in its voting maps.

Following today’s hearing, Valencia Richardson, legal counsel for voting rights at Campaign Legal Center, issued the following statement: 

“Today’s hearing illustrated a fundamental fact: Galveston County’s Black and Latino voters deserve an opportunity to make their voices heard in county government. For too long, Galveston County’s Black and Latino voters have faced discrimination in voting — a situation exacerbated by the reality that they are now being forced to vote in 2024 under a discriminatory map deemed illegal, ‘mean-spirited’ and  ‘egregious’ by a federal judge.

“Justice cannot and should not have to wait any longer. We urge the Fifth Circuit to uphold its own prior precedent in affirming coalition claims under the Voting Rights Act and to protect the freedom to vote for all Galvestonians.”

Background: On October 13, 2023, a federal district court judge ruled that Galveston County’s 2021 redistricting plan, which he called “mean-spirited” and “egregious,” violated Section 2 of the federal Voting Rights Act. In that ruling, the judge ordered the county to draw new, fair maps in time for the start of the November 11, 2023 candidate filing period for the 2024 Commissioners Court elections. 

However, Galveston County appealed the ruling to a panel of judges on the Fifth Circuit of Appeals and was able to temporarily block new maps from being drawn — even as the judges agreed with the facts of the district court ruling. The full Fifth Circuit eventually took up the appeal, but CLC and our clients argued that fair districts should be in place while the appeals process was ongoing. In December 2023, the U.S. Supreme Court disagreed.

Now, Galveston County’s 2024 elections will be conducted under a map, known as Map 2, that a federal judge ruled illegal and discriminatory in October 2023. Unfortunately, Map 2 does not allow Black and Latino voters to elect a representative of choice for the Commissioners Court in any of the county’s four districts.

This case threatens to undermine a component of the Voting Rights Act: ‘coalition districts,’ which ensure that voters from different marginalized groups who live in the same area, have similar interests, face a shared history of past and present-day discrimination, and form a majority within the district can still elect candidates who best serve their communities. When voters of color in a coalition district sue for fair representation under the Voting Rights Act — as Black and Latino voters did in Galveston, TX — this is called a ‘coalition claim.’ The Fifth Circuit explicitly upheld coalition claims as constitutional in Campos v. City of Baytown, TX.

More information about the case can be found here.