Supreme Court upholds Maryland law ending prison-based gerrymandering; Huge victory for fair representation

June 25, 2012  

Prison Policy Initiative and Demos logos

For Immediate Release: June 25, 2012

Contact:
Dēmos Anna Pycior 212-398-1408 apycior@demos.org
Prison Policy Initiative Peter Wagner 413-527-0845

Washington, DC - The U.S. Supreme Court today upheld the constitutionality of Maryland’s groundbreaking “No Representation Without Population Act,” which counts incarcerated people as residents of their legal home addresses for redistricting purposes. The 2010 law was a major civil rights victory that ended the distortions in fair representation caused by using incarcerated persons to pad the population counts of districts containing prisons.

The law upheld today is a state-based solution to the long-standing problem in the federal Census of counting incarcerated people as residents of the prison location, even though they cannot vote there and remain residents of their home communities for virtually all other legal purposes. The practice of prison-based gerrymandering particularly harms urban communities and communities of color that disproportionately contain the home residences of incarcerated persons. Other states have since passed similar laws, but the Maryland law was the only one to go to the Supreme Court.

“Today’s Supreme Court decision in Fletcher v. Lamone affirmed the constitutional ‘one person one vote’ foundation of our decade-old campaign to end prison-based gerrymandering,” said Peter Wagner, Executive Director of the Prison Policy Initiative and the nation’s leading expert on how the Census Bureau’s practice of counting incarcerated people as residents of the prison locations harms the democratic process.

The lawsuit was filed last November, and the civil rights community responded quickly to brief the lower court on the constitutionality of Maryland’s law. In an amicus brief, the Prison Policy Initiative and Dēmos, along with the Howard University School of Law Civil Rights Clinic, the ACLU of Maryland, the Maryland and Somerset County Branch NAACP, and the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund explained the basis and need for the landmark law. The lower court’s opinion, affirmed today, rejected the allegation that the law was somehow dilutive of minority voting rights, finding that the No Representation Without Population Act was an historic Maryland civil rights victory:

“As the amicus brief … makes clear, the Act was the product of years of work by groups dedicated to advancing the interests of minorities.”

Brenda Wright, Vice President for Legal Strategies at Dēmos, hailed today’s ruling in Fletcher v. Lamone: “The Supreme Court’s ruling is a huge victory for the national campaign to end prison-based gerrymandering. This decision sets an important precedent that will encourage other states to reform their redistricting laws and end the distortion in fair representation caused by treating incarcerated persons as residents of prisons.”

Today’s decision in Fletcher v. Lamone constitutes the most significant court ruling to date on the factual and legal justification for states to reallocate incarcerated persons to their home residences for purposes of redistricting. The ruling upheld today noted that “the Act is intended to ‘correct for the distortional effects of the Census Bureau’s practice of counting prisoners as residents of their place of incarceration.’” It further noted that

“These distortional effects stem from the fact that while the majority of the state’s prisoners come from African-American areas, the state’s prisons are located primarily in the majority white First and Sixth Districts. As a result, residents of districts with prisons are systematically ‘overrepresented’ compared to other districts.”

The plaintiffs in Fletcher challenged Maryland’s right to correct where incarcerated people are counted for the purpose of drawing congressional districts. “Congressional districts are held to the highest standards to ensure population equality.” said Brenda Wright of Dēmos. “The Court’s decision that Maryland’s law satisfies the strict standards applicable to congressional districts clears the path for other states to pass similar laws at all levels of government.” New York, Delaware and California have already enacted similar legislation, and advocates are calling on the Census Bureau for a national solution. “Today’s ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court affirming that Maryland’s law both meets constitutional requirements and was fairly implemented will hopefully encourage the Census Bureau to change its policy on where incarcerated people are counted in the 2020 Census” said the Prison Policy Initiative’s Peter Wagner.

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10 Responses

  1. New Blog Look; Move | Dollars & Sense Blog says, 6 hours, 41 minutes after publication:

    [...] the constitutionality of a Maryland law against prison gerrymandering.  Read all about it from Prisoners of the Census. Our pals at the Prison Policy Project contributed to an amicus brief in the [...]

  2. Baltimore’s AFRO covers US Supreme Court’s stand against prison-based gerrymandering | Prisoners of the Census says, 1 week, 3 days after publication:

    [...] AFRO recently published a great piece by Maria Morales about the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last week to uphold Maryland’s law ending prison-based [...]

  3. US Supreme Court decision boosts Illinois efforts to end prison-based gerrymandering | Prisoners of the Census says, 4 weeks, 1 day after publication:

    [...] Illinois State Representative La Shawn K. Ford announced that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to uphold Maryland’s law ending prison-based gerrymandering reaffirms his proposed legislation to count incarcerated people [...]

  4. Maryland law brings long-awaited racial justice to Somerset County | Prisoners of the Census says, 1 month, 3 weeks after publication:

    [...] the endorsement of the U.S. Supreme Court in June, the No Representation Without Population Act is firmly established as one of the major [...]

  5. On the Campaign Trail: Racine County, Wisconsin | Prisoners of the Census says, 4 months, 1 week after publication:

    [...] the Supreme Court’s recent endorsement of Maryland’s law ending prison-based gerrymandering has given Wisconsin legislators the green light to move forward on a state-wide legislative [...]

  6. Please support our movement in 2013 | Prisoners of the Census says, 5 months, 2 weeks after publication:

    [...] biggest victory was widely-publicized when the Supreme Court upheld Maryland’s first-in-the-nation law ending prison gerrymandering. We won a quieter victory [...]

  7. 2012 was a great year; can you help with 2013? | Prisoners of the Census says, 5 months, 4 weeks after publication:

    [...] took huge strides forward in 2012. Some of the victories were easy to see, like in June when the Supreme Court upheld Maryland’s first-in-the-nation law that did what the Census Bureau had refused to do: count [...]

  8. Peter Wagner Awarded Champion of State Criminal Justice Reform Award by Nation’s Criminal Defense Bar | Prison Policy Initiative says, 1 year, 1 month after publication:

    [...] inspiring four states and more than 200 local governments to abolish the practice. The U.S. Supreme Court's endorsement of Maryland's law to end prison gerrymandering has been hailed as one of the major criminal [...]

  9. Congress and Census Bureau Director talk prison gerrymandering | Prison Gerrymandering Project says, 1 year, 2 months after publication:

    [...] At a congressional hearing about the 2020 Census on Wednesday, I was happy to see that Congressman William Lacy Clay asked the new Census Bureau Director, John Thompson, how the Bureau plans to count prison populations. Congressman Clay noted that he had already submitted a joint letter to the Bureau with 17 other congressional colleagues urging the Bureau to count incarcerated people at their home addresses in 2020. He also pointed out that several states have already passed their own laws to avoid prison gerrymandering by adjusting their redistricting data, a solution that has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. [...]

  10. Alternative Spring Break at the Prison Policy Initiative | Prison Policy Initiative says, 1 year, 8 months after publication:

    [...] way, the Supreme Court has supported ending prison gerrymandering and more than 200 local governments have already ended [...]

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