Civil Rights Groups Answer Summary Judgment Motion in Prison-Based Gerrymandering Lawsuit

August 19, 2011

Albany, NY – Attorneys for the fifteen voters from around New York State who have joined the legal defense of New York’s law ending prison-based gerrymandering today filed papers asking New York Supreme Court Judge Eugene Devine to grant their motion for summary judgment and uphold the law. Their filing lays out why the judge should uphold the law and why a similar request from the Senators with large prisons in their districts should be denied. The case is Little v. LATFOR. The organizations representing these voters in court are the Brennan Center for Justice, the Center for Law & Social Justice, Dēmos, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, the New York Civil Liberties Union, and the Prison Policy Initiative.

On Aug. 4, Judge Devine granted the fifteen voters from across New York State permission to intervene in the lawsuit and join in the defense of the law.  The original named defendants in the lawsuit are government bodies charged with carrying out the new law: the New York State Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment (LATFOR), and the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS). The New York State Attorney General’s office is representing DOCCS.

The new law, known as “Part XX,” requires that incarcerated persons be allocated to their home communities for redistricting and reapportionment. This tracks with the New York State Constitution’s explicit provision that incarceration does not change one’s residence. Part XX applies to state and local legislative redistricting, and would not affect federal funding distributions.

New York State Senator Elizabeth Little and a group of co-plaintiffs are seeking to restore the old policy, which inflated the voting weight of a few communities at the expense of all others by allocating incarcerated persons to the districts where prisons are located, rather than to their home addresses. 

Related Issues

Separate from the lawsuit, on August 4, the New York State Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment announced that it would comply with the law. This is a dramatic change for LATFOR, whose co-chair, Senator Nozzolio, represents a district that includes several large prisons. LATFOR had previously been implying that it was not going to implement the law.

This pledge to follow the law came after a flurry of public criticism prompted by the seven civil rights organizations representing the intervenors. On July 27, the seven civil rights organizations representing the intervenors wrote to LATFOR, explaining that LATFOR must comply with the law. LATFOR had also received intense criticism from editorial boards around the state, including the Albany Times Union, the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle and the New York Times.

Public opinion is clearly against prison-based gerrymandering. A Quinnipiac University poll released last week reported that a majority of New York State voters say “that prison inmates should be counted as residents of their home districts, not of where they’re imprisoned.” The poll found that majorities of voters from both parties, and majorities of both upstate and downstate voters, favored “counting inmates in their homes, not their prisons.”

About Prison-Based Gerrymandering

There are dramatic examples of prison-based gerrymandering in upstate counties and cities. For example, half of a council ward in the city of Rome, New York is incarcerated, giving the residents of that ward twice the influence of other city residents. Recognizing the distorting effect of prison-based gerrymandering at the local level, thirteen New York counties with large prisons – including four in plaintiff Senator Little’s district – have historically exercised their discretion to remove the prison populations prior to redistricting.

The new law brings consistency to redistricting in New York, prohibiting the state and all local governments from giving extra political influence to districts that contain prisons. Sen. Little’s lawsuit seeks to have the new legislation struck down, the effect of which would require legislative districts – including her own, which contains 12,000 incarcerated persons – to include prisons when redistricting, to the detriment of all other districts without prisons.

Returning to this practice would unfairly inflate districts containing prisons at others’ expense, and violate the New York State Constitution. In addition, many areas containing large minority communities have been disproportionately affected by this practice, effectively diluting the votes of minority communities. The enactment of Part XX was considered a major civil rights achievement for New York State.

Keep track of the case and find the legal documents at the Brennan Center’s web page for Little v. LATFOR, www.brennancenter.org/littlevlatfor.

For more information, please contact:

Brennan Center for Justice

Andrew Goldston

(646) 292-8372

andrew.goldston@nyu.edu

Center for Law & Social Justice

April Silver

(718) 756-8501

pr@akilaworksongs.com

Dēmos

Anna Pycior

(212) 389-1408

apycior@demos.org

LatinoJustice

John Garcia

(212) 739-7513

jgarcia@latinojustice.org

NAACP-LDF

Melquiades Gagarin

(212) 965-2783

mgagarin@naacpldf.org

NYCLU

Michael Cummings

(212) 607-3300 x368

mcummings@nyclu.org

Prison Policy Initiative

Peter Wagner

(413) 527-0845

pwagner@prisonpolicy.org