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Justice Department sues Texas county, alleging discrimination in redistricting plan

The lawsuit accuses Galveston County of discriminating against Black and Hispanic voters.
College Protest Against Texas Abortion Ban
A volunteer helps students register to vote at the University of Houston on Sept. 30.Reginald Mathalone / NurPhoto via AP file

The Justice Department sued Galveston County, Texas, on Thursday over a redistricting plan that it alleges discriminates against Black and Hispanic voters.

Justice Department lawyers accused officials in the GOP-dominated southeastern Texas county of deliberately making “drastic changes” to district lines to eliminate the sole district in which the county’s Black and Hispanic voters had an equal opportunity to elect preferred candidates.

The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court for Southern Texas, alleges that the redistricting plan approved in November for the county’s governing body, known as the Commissioners Court, was “adopted, in part, for a discriminatory purpose.” It says the plan violates the 1965 Voting Rights Act's provisions against discriminatory voting practices or procedures.

“The 2021 commissioners court redistricting plan will result in denying or abridging the right of Black and Hispanic voters in Galveston County to participate equally in the political process,” the Justice Department said in its lawsuit, which as first reported by CNN.

Galveston County Communications Director Zach Davidson declined to comment on the allegations, citing pending litigation.

The lawsuit goes on to say the redistricting effort has “both the result and intent of diluting the voting strength of the County’s minority voters.”

Census data from 2020 show that the voting-age population of the county, which is on the Gulf Coast, is about 58 percent white, 22.5 percent Hispanic and 12.5 percent Black.

The Justice Department is asking the court to block Galveston County from using the challenged plan to conduct elections. It also calls on the court to order the county to devise and put in place a new redistricting plan.

The lawsuit marks the third time during the Biden administration that the Justice Department has sued in Texas over voting practices. Federal prosecutors also sued Georgia, its secretary of state and its State Elections Board in June over voting procedures.

“This action is the latest demonstration of the Justice Department’s commitment to protecting the voting rights of all Americans, particularly during the current redistricting cycle,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke said in a statement. “We will continue to use all available tools to challenge voting discrimination in our country.”

The legal battle over the redistricting map is the latest in the first redistricting cycle since the Supreme Court in 2013 effectively invalidated a major part of the Voting Rights Act. The provision laid out a formula for which states needed clearance from the Justice Department or a federal court in Washington before they could change voting procedures or redraw electoral districts.

The complaint against Galveston County alleges that the adopted redistricting map moved a voting precinct that had the highest Black voting-age population in the county out of the majority-minority district where it had been for 20 years, splitting it between two other commissioners court precincts.

The Commissioners Court, which consists of a county judge, who serves as the presiding officer, and four commissioners elected from single-member districts, also deliberately excluded the only Black commissioner, Democrat Stephen Holmes, from being “meaningfully involved” in drawing the 2021 plan, the lawsuit says.

Holmes told NBC News that the damage has already been done to the county's communities of color.

"They feel like w'ere now back to a 1960-style struggle for democracy based on this map," he said of his Black constituents.

The county has a lengthy record of trying to eliminate electoral opportunities for its Black and Hispanic voters and adopting discriminatory redistricting plans, the lawsuit claims. The Justice Department twice rejected the county’s redistricting plans — in 1992 and 2012 — because of concerns about violating the Voting Rights Act.