Pending the Fifth Circuit, of course.
A federal judge ruled Galveston County must keep its old commissioner precinct map in place for the 2024 election while a federal appeals court mulls overturning its precedent and allowing new maps which do away with the county’s only minority-majority district.
Judge Jeffrey Brown of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas early Friday ruled that, because candidates were already announcing campaigns, it was too late for the county to weigh in on what remedial maps would look like. Instead, the county should use maps that kept the existing boundaries largely in place, Brown ruled.
But hours after his ruling, the county wrote to the Fifth Circuit asking them to re-impose a stay that would put the new maps in place for the 2024 elections.
The latest flurry of legal maneuvering is part of a winding case that could change how the U.S. Voting Rights Act is interpreted and might one day end up before the U.S. Supreme Court, said Derek Muller, a professor of law and expert in election law at the University of Notre Dame.
“As personnel have changed on the courts, there’s been an increased appetite in revisiting some of the previous holdings of the circuit,” Muller said. “Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act is obviously contentious. And multiple Supreme Court decisions lately have gone multiple directions, some in favor of the plaintiffs and some in favor of the states.”
The Fifth Circuit Court in November ruled commissioners violated the U.S. Voting Rights Act by eliminating the only minority-majority district in its latest redistricting process, but the judges said previous precedent essentially tied their hands. In the same ruling, they asked the full court whether it would be interested in convening an en banc hearing – in which all 17 of the circuit court judges would meet and consider the case — to revisit precedent on Voting Rights Act cases. The court later agreed to that hearing, which is tentatively set for May.
Muller called the court’s decision to revisit its own precedent rare, but not completely unusual.
Filing for the 2024 primary season has already begun. Muller said one problem with election litigation like this is that elections are always on the horizon. There’s a chance this lawsuit doesn’t end conclusively before the next election, in which case new maps won’t be in place until the following election, he said.
See here, here, and here for the background. Anyone who wants to talk about how long this litigation might drag on, pull up a chair and let me tell you about the last few decades of Congressional redistricting litigation in Texas. As far as the federal district and appellate courts screwing around with what the Voting Rights Act means, there’s a lot of that going around right now; I’ll address that further in another post. For once, time may be on our side, given that candidate filings have been going on for three weeks and the primary isn’t going to move. But it ain’t over till the Fifth Circuit runs out of gas, so hang tight.