AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Newly drawn county election districts in Galveston, where Juneteenth began, illegally weaken the voting power of Black and Latino residents and must be redone, a federal judge in Texas ruled Friday in the latest case of a court striking down a Republican-drawn political map.
The decision by U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Brown, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, adds to victories voting rights groups have notched in the South this year over maps that Black voters say dilute their political power. Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a surprising 5-4 ruling in favor of Black voters in a congressional redistricting case from Alabama.
In Texas, Brown ruled that Galveston County leaders redrew local political districts in a way that violated the federal Voting Rights Act. Black and Latino residents make up about 38% of the county’s eligible voters, many of whom lived in a precinct that was dismantled by the new maps.
“This is not a typical redistricting case. What happened here was stark and jarring,” Brown wrote.
The county said it plans to appeal the ruling in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
“We are disappointed in today’s decision,” Galveston County Judge Mark Henry said in a statement. “We are confident that we will win this case on appeal. The County followed redistricting law and did not engage in any racial discrimination. We believe this will be vindicated by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. As County Judge, I have never lost a voting rights act case on appeal.”
The county along the Gulf Coast includes Galveston, a popular tourist community that gave rise to Juneteenth, the newest federal holiday that marks the date when the last enslaved people in the United States learned they were free. It occurred on June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers told enslaved Black people in Galveston that they had been freed.
The U.S. Justice Department also joined in the lawsuit, underscoring the opposition to the maps Galveston County redrew in 2021. The challenge and ruling only applied to the local county precincts, and not legislative or congressional districts.
Brown ordered the county to propose new maps later this month that include at least one majority-minority precinct.
“The Justice Department will continue to stand up for the right of every eligible citizen to vote and to have that vote counted,” said Attorney General Merrick Garland.
“We hope today’s decision sends a clear signal to governments across that South that they will be held to account for discriminatory voting plans, and will not succeed in silencing the voices of Black and Brown voters,” said Hilary Harris Klein, an attorney with with Southern Coalition for Social Justice.
How local political districts are drawn has come under increasing attention nationwide. In California, Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom this month vetoed legislation that would have required dozens of the state’s largest cities, counties and educational districts to use independent commissions to draw voting districts. Newsom said he was concerned that a mandate to create independent commissions could end up costing the state tens of millions of dollars.