Expect more of this going forward.
A Galveston County plan slashing the number of justice-of-the-peace districts from eight to four intentionally discriminates against minority voters and should be blocked, according to a federal lawsuit filed Monday.
The lawsuit comes exactly one week after Galveston County commissioners approved a redistricting plan for justices of the peace similar to one rejected last year by the U.S. Justice Department. The department opposed the plan because it reduced the number of districts with black and Hispanic majorities from two to one, as does the one adopted last week.
By cutting the number of justice of the peace districts in half, Galveston commissioners reduced the number of judges from nine to four. Although the county has eight districts, there are nine justices of the peace because two are elected from a single precinct, an unusual arrangement arrived at under a 1992 consent judgment in a discrimination lawsuit.
Attorney Joe Nixon, whose firm was hired by the county to redraw the justice-of-the-peace districts, said the plan is in compliance with the 1965 Voting Rights Act. “It’s hard to say there was race involved when of the five seats lost one was a minority and four were non-minorities,” Nixon said. He said the proportion of minority districts is the same as in the plan the Justice Department approved for commissioner’s districts.
Attorney Chad Dunn, who filed the lawsuit, said the new plan is both intentionally discriminatory and has a discriminatory effect. “The county was already told by the Department of Justice that this plan was discriminatory,” Dunn said. “The county knew the plan was discriminatory and they did it anyway.”
See here for the background. The proportionality argument is interesting and may wind up being persuasive, but it didn’t work for getting preclearance. The county commissioners also argue that they can save a bunch of money by consolidating constables and JP courts, claiming that two of the courts they have targeted for elimination had very low caseloads; the plaintiffs in the lawsuit dispute this. The lawsuit was filed in the Southern District of Texas federal court in Galveston, and a copy of the suit is here. Note that among other things, the plaintiffs ask that Galveston County be bailed in to preclearance requirements under Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act. Whatever happens with the lawsuits against the state, local requests for Section 3 supervision will surely continue until clearer guidelines are set.