A Trump judge and Biden’s Justice Department agree that a Texas map is illegal. But that doesn’t mean it will change.


Texas redistricting plan considered by a judge appointed by Donald Trump ‘Clear violation’ The Voting Rights Act is back in the notoriously conservative Court of Appeals.

But despite the major victory for Black and Hispanic voters — and the Biden administration, which joined minority voters in suing over the map — civil rights advocates fear it could be overturned with a ruling that would further dramatically undermine the Voting Rights Act. South patch.

For nearly 30 years, District 3 has been drawn up by the Galveston County Commission — the county’s governing body — to group together black and Hispanic communities, which together make up nearly 39% of the county’s population and most of whom vote Democratic. After the 2021 census, the Republican-led County Commission gerrymandered that district, narrowing it down to four majority-white districts instead.

U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Vincent Brown last year invalidated the new map, saying the way commissioners “erase” a majority-minority district was “blatant,” “shocking,” “outrageous” and “despicable.”

Among the commission’s actions was to hold its lone meeting on redistricting plans 27 miles from the district courthouse that normally hosts the main commission meetings and to exclude the only black member at the time (and the only Democrat) from the map-drawing process. .

However, due to some eyebrow raising Procedural maneuver Last year by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit – With the Supreme Court refusing to intervene — The disputed map will be in effect in the 2024 election as the 5th Circuit considers reversing the 35-year-old precedent that was the basis of Brown’s rule.

Tuesday, a conservative appeals court will hear arguments to determine whether the Voting Rights Act requires redistricting plans to protect the collective political power of multiple minority groups, in what are known as “coalition districts.”

The case shows exactly why the Voting Rights Act is contemplating scenarios where alliances of multiple racial groups are harmed by discriminatory mapping, the lawyers leading the lawsuit told CNN. They say that reversing current precedent will encourage cartographers across the South to break up majority and minority areas made up of multiple ethnic or racial groups.

“Recognizing that communities of color often suffer the effects of discrimination together is what is at stake here,” said Valencia Richardson, legal counsel for the Campaign Legal Center, which represents voters challenging the map.

Their opponents say Congress did not intend for multiple “classes” of minorities to be considered together when evaluating a map’s compliance with the Voting Rights Act. They claim the requirement to create coalition districts has exacerbated the seemingly endless dispute over redistricting.

“At the heart of this issue lies the meaning of the Voting Rights Act: Was it intended to restore justice and put things back where they belong, or was it a political weapon that improperly used race to distribute power?” J. Christian Adams, an attorney representing Galveston County, said in an email to CNN.

Judge says black and Latino voices have been “extinguished.”

The 2021 map split the longstanding District 3, distributing minority voters across the four overall commission districts. White voters — who vote overwhelmingly Republican in the county — now make up large majorities in all four counties.

“Given — as this court must — the totality of the circumstances, it is astonishing how the county silenced the voice of Black and Latino communities in its commissioners court during the 2021 redistricting,” Brown said in his decision.

Brown, who was confirmed by the Senate in 2019 with only Republican support, has previously ruled against the Biden administration in legal disputes over… Federal Covid-19 vaccine mandates And Environmental regulations.

The 2021 redistricting cycle was the first in which the county was not subject to so-called preclearance under the Voting Rights Act, which requires that localities with a history of racially discriminatory voting practices obtain approval from the Justice Department or a federal court when adopting new political maps.

Brown noted how Republican members of the commission — led by the county’s chief executive, District Judge Mark Henry — strayed from the county’s usual redistricting process in several ways.

Galveston Republicans chose to shut the public — and the commissioner representing District 3, the commission’s only Democrat and, at the time, the only member of color — out of most of the process, the judge found. The commission chose to hold only one public meeting on the redistricting plan, compared to the five meetings held after the 2010 Census.

This lone meeting of 2021 was also not held in the centrally located county courthouse typically used for major commission business, but in a building 27 miles from Galveston that was much smaller and more difficult to access. that The meeting was attended by between 150 and 200 people. With many of them — including elderly residents and people in wheelchairs — left queuing in the hallways due to limited space.

At the meeting, Henry and other commissioners showed “a disregard for public input from minority communities and those critical of the discriminatory impact of the plan that passed,” Brown wrote.

In 2022, a second Black member joined the commission, filling a seat left vacant by the death of a Republican representing a district of mostly white voters. The new commissioner, Robin Armstrong, is a Republican. The federal judge in the redistricting case said his addition to the panel had nothing to do with the legal dispute.

“His constituency is predominantly Anglo, and numerous witnesses — including Commissioner Armstrong himself — have testified that he would not be the preferred candidate of black and Latino voters,” the judge said. Armstrong did not respond to CNN’s request for comment.

If the appeals court overturns its precedent and rules against a coalition district mandate, such a decision would have a profound impact in the three states covered by the district — Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi — that were required to obtain prior federal approval for their maps before a 2013 Supreme Court ruling struck down that mandate. .

Adams, who is also president and general counsel of the Public Interest Legal Foundation, told CNN via email that “the Fifth Circuit must make clear that race cannot be used for political gain,” and noted how other courts “have not allowed these sub-majority districts.”

He said: “The law speaks in individual terms, not aggregated minority groups.”

After the 5th Circuit temporarily blocked Brown’s ruling, contenders for Galveston’s new map asked the Supreme Court last year to block the 2021 plan for the upcoming election — a request that was denied over the dissent of the three liberal justices.

Justice Elena Kagan, joined by the court’s two other liberals, wrote that the 5th Circuit had “exceeded its proper authority,” because the appeals court was imposing a map that “was recognized as violating existing law…on the theory that the circuit might one day change.” this is the law.”

Current Fifth Circuit precedent allowing coalition zones dates back to 1988.

At trial in the Galveston case, challengers had to prove that black and Hispanic voters had a shared history of suffering discrimination in the district and that they consistently voted for the same candidates.

“If ethnic groups lack cohesion derived from shared experiences and interests, their claims will fail on their own. This outcome should not be assumed a priori,” the Justice Department wrote in court documents.

The county argues that because Galveston’s Latino and black residents, individually, are too small to make a successful claim to the VRA, the lawsuit should fail.

In court filings, she said there was “nothing in the language or history of the Victims’ Rights Act to suggest that it was intended to protect two or more minority groups together, when neither could bring such a claim individually.”

Chad Ennis — vice president of the Honest Elections Project, a conservative group that works on voting issues and which has filed friend of the court briefs calling for the end of coalition districts — told CNN that legal disputes over coalition districts ultimately boil down to a “battle.” From the experts.”

Ennis said the current precedent was fueling protracted court battles over redistricting.

“Trying to figure out, ‘Okay, can we clump?’ [multiple groups] together? Should we group them together? “It becomes very difficult,” he said.

Supporters of the Fifth Circuit precedent say the Galveston case shows how rarely these types of alliances succeed in the first place, and that the dispute exemplifies the kind of discriminatory behavior that the VRA was intended to address.

“If the defendants get their way, it will be a green light to destroy majority-minority areas across the South,” said Hillary Harris Klein, a senior staff attorney at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, which represents some of the challengers in the lawsuit. “It will be as devastating to minority voters as it was to black and Latino voters in Galveston.”

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