Supreme Court Passes on Texas County Voting Rights Act Dispute Despite Liberal Dissent

The Supreme Court’s recent decision on Tuesday signaled a reluctance to intervene in the ongoing dispute surrounding a Republican-drawn commissioners map in Galveston County, Texas, as legal deliberations continue to shape the interpretation and application of the Voting Rights Act.

In a move that has significant implications for the county-level redrawing of electoral maps post-2020 census, the Supreme Court’s decision means that the County Commissioners Court map, previously deemed in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act by a federal judge, will remain in effect. This decision persists while a federal appeals court plans to review the judge’s ruling in the coming year.

At the heart of the controversy is the redistricting plan adopted by Galveston County commissioners in November 2021, a majority of whom are Republicans. The plan dismantled Precinct 3, which had long been the only precinct dominated by Black and Latino populations in the county. Critics argue that the move amounts to a racially motivated gerrymander with potential repercussions nationwide, challenging the principles of the Voting Rights Act.

The court’s refusal to intervene has drawn dissension from its three liberal justices. Justice Elena Kagan, in a brief dissent joined by her liberal colleagues, expressed concern about the court’s endorsement of a map acknowledged to violate existing law. The broader implications of this decision are underscored by legal experts, including Steve Vladeck, CNN Supreme Court analyst and University of Texas School of Law professor, who emphasized the potential ramifications for legal challenges in other states.

The underlying legal battle underscores the significant impact of the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder, which eliminated the need for Texas to seek preclearance from the Department of Justice for changes in voting maps. Voting rights groups contend that this decision paved the way for the contested redistricting plan.

Challengers, including residents like Terry Petteway, argued that the county’s redrawing of maps diminished the electoral influence of Black and Latino voters, contravening the Voting Rights Act. U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey Vincent Brown had previously ruled in favor of the residents, deeming the initial maps fundamentally inconsistent with Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and ordering a remedial process.

Despite the district court’s ruling, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals imposed a temporary hold on the decision, opting to review the case in May, well after the state’s March primary elections. The ongoing legal battle in Galveston County reflects a broader struggle over voting rights and electoral fairness, highlighting the tension between state-level decisions and federal legislation designed to protect the integrity of the electoral process.