Fifth Circuit upholds (*) Galveston redistricting ruling

With an asterisk, as noted in the title.

Commissioner Stephen Holmes

A federal appeals court Friday ruled that Galveston County commissioners violated the U.S. Voting Rights Act by eliminating the only majority-minority district in its latest redistricting process.

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed October’s ruling finding the county violated the Voting Rights Act, but the judges said previous precedent essentially tied their hands. Three judges on the panel wrote they were interested in revisiting precedent, which allows claims on behalf of a broad coalition. In this case, that means on behalf of Black and Hispanic voters, said Mark Gaber, the Campaign Legal Center’s senior director for redistricting. The legal center was one of the plaintiffs who sued the county after it passed the maps in 2021.

The Justice Department, local branch of NAACP and residents of the redrawn district, among others, also sued. The case went to trial in August in Galveston.

While upholding Judge Jeffrey Brown’s ruling in the matter, the circuit court panel called on their fellow judges to vote on whether or not to call a special hearing — in which all 17 of the circuit court judges would meet and consider the case — to revisit precedent on Voting Rights Act cases, Gaber said.

Gaber said he wasn’t sure what the full court would decide, but it would be unusual if they did call for a hearing. The 5th Circuit already had a similar hearing, called an en banc hearing, on the same matter in the 1990s, he said.

“The whole idea of an en banc hearing is to settle an issue,” Gaber said.

Galveston County Judge Mark Henry said he hoped the hearing would happen. Shortly after the decision was published, the county asked for a stay on Brown’s orders to redraw the maps to include a majority-minority district before the next county commissioner election. The stay was granted, Henry said.


The stay of a redrawn map could mean that Holmes is faces the possibility of having to run for election in a district Brown declared discriminatory. Filing for the 2024 primary season opens on Saturday. It’s unclear what would happen if the 5th Circuit now decides to uphold Brown’s order for a redrawn map, which could only come after the filing period is open.

See here and here for the background. I have to admit, I didn’t even know that a three-judge panel could ask for an en banc hearing. I thought only one of the parties involved could do that. The more you know, and all that. I have no idea what happens now, but it should go without saying that having Commissioner Holmes run in a precinct that has been declared unconstitutional is an abomination. It also goes without saying that this sort of thing is just another Tuesday to the Fifth Circuit. Hopefully we’ll know more soon. Democracy Docket and Michael Li, who also noted a different bit of Fifth Circuit shenanigans, have more.

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