Full Fifth Circuit hears Galveston redistricting case

Always hard to feel any optimism when these guys are involved.

Commissioner Stephen Holmes

Conservatives on the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals occasionally sounded like Fox News talking heads Tuesday as they weighed whether coalitions composed of multiple minority groups are protected under the Voting Rights Act.

“Has the world not changed from a racial standpoint?” “Would you agree that discrimination in favor of a race — preferring a race — is the same thing as discrimination against other races?” the judges asked.

The right-wing judges’ dismissal of these voters’ need for protection — a “seat at the table,” said Chad Dunn, an attorney for the disenfranchised voters — sits in sharp contrast next to the ruling from the district court.

“[T]his is not a typical redistricting case. What happened here was stark and jarring,” wrote U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Vincent Brown, a Trump appointee. “The Commissioners Court transformed Precinct 3 from the precinct with the highest percentage of Black and Latino residents to that with the lowest percentage. The circumstances and effect of the enacted plan were mean-spirited and egregious given that there was absolutely no reason to make major changes to Precinct 3.”


The case has become a vehicle for one of the most potent, new threats against the already diminished Voting Rights Act: the argument that only single minority groups, and not politically likeminded minority coalitions, get the VRA’s protection from being stretched and cracked out of any meaningful voting power. The argument was raised in a redistricting case out of Georgia too, but the district judge set it aside late last year as having not been sufficiently briefed.

A panel of judges on the notoriously conservative 5th Circuit in November of last year upheld the Texas district court’s ruling — begrudgingly.

“That precedent establishes the validity of so-called minority-coalition claims like those brought in this case,” the panel wrote, adding: “But the court’s decisions in this respect are wrong as a matter of law.”

In other words: The judges are bound to follow their circuit’s precedent, that the coalitions do get VRA protection. But that precedent, they insist, is wrong and should be overturned.

The panel called for a rehearing of the case en banc, arguments for which the full circuit heard Tuesday.

See here, here, here, and here for some background. The map that was struck down by the district court judge for being in violation of the Voting Rights Act will still be used in this election, thanks to the Fifth Circuit and an equally complicit SCOTUS. I may be wrong about this – it will depend to some extent on the timing – but even with a favorable final resolution of this case, there will be a period of time in which the affected voters will have a County Commissioner that they would not have voted for. On the other end of that spectrum, we get an even more emasculated Voting Rights Act. That’s going to take both a legislative fix and some court reform to really deal with. Insert my usual plea here to win more elections. The Trib and the Campaign Legal Center, which is co-representing the plaintiffs, have more.

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