GALVESTON — Saying the county’s redrawn precincts for justices of the peace and constables dilutes minority voting power, a group of constables, justices and a resident has sued to have the new precinct map tossed.
The six plaintiffs filed the lawsuit Monday in Galveston’s U.S. District Court against County Judge Mark Henry and the county.
The plaintiffs are justices of the peace Penny Pope and Sonny James, constables Terry Petteway, Michael Montez and Derreck Rose and resident Roosevelt Henderson.
The redrawn precincts eliminated up to four districts in which minorities could be elected to office, the lawsuit said, and were drawn specifically to “prevent African American and Latino voters from having the opportunities to elect candidates of their choice.”
Henry did not respond to a request for comment by press time.
County commissioners last week redrew the justice of the peace precincts, eliminating four of the districts and five of the justice positions.
County commissioners argued that the approximately 29,000 cases the nine justices heard annually could be more efficiently handled by only four, the minimum required by state law.
Commissioner also said the cuts would save up to $1 million annually.
Some critics argued that eliminating five justices reduced access to the court system for many people.Others charged the court with ignoring the county’s long legal history, one that includes multiple lawsuits that forced the county to draw district lines to enhance the chance of that minority candidates can be elected.
The latest foray into redistricting for the county’s justices of the peace and constables ended with the U.S. Department of Justice rejecting the proposed new boundaries.
But in June, the Supreme Court threw out portions of the Voting Rights Act of 1968 that required certain political subdivisions to obtain justice department approval before changing election boundaries.
The county became the first political subdivision in Texas to redistrict after the high court’s decision. The county also preceded without consulting the federal government at all.
The plaintiffs argue that the new maps violate portions of the voting rights act that the Supreme Court didn’t throw out and deny minorities “an equal opportunity to participate effectively in the political process.”
The lawsuit said the new plan eliminated all but one district in which minorities could be elected.
Trey Trainor, an attorney representing a law firm charged by the commissioners court with redrawing the precincts, said last week during the public hearing to consider the new maps, that while the number of “minority opportunity districts” dropped from two to one, minorities had the same percentage of representation in the county at 25 percent.
The lawsuit seeks to prohibit the county from implementing the new districts and to reinstate the preclearance requirements from the justice department.
- Wes Swift discusses the Supreme Court’s decision on Shelby County v. Holder and how it affects the county’s redistricting decision at the Policybook blog at www.galvestondailynews.com/blogs/policybook.