Little v. LATFOR documents

Intervenors and Counsel
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The Prison Policy Initiative, as part of a group of organizations representing fifteen voters, intervened in Little v. LATFOR, a case challenging New York's new law allocating incarcerated persons to their home districts for redistricting and reapportionment.

The Brennan Center for Justice, The Center for Law and Social Justice, D­ēmos, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and the New York Civil Liberties Union joined the Prison Policy Initiative in successfully defending the new law against a legal challenge brought by New York State Senator Elizabeth Little and others.

Previously, legislative districts with prisons were credited with the population of the disenfranchised people temporarily incarcerated there. This practice, often called prison-based gerrymandering, gave extra influence to voters who live in the district with the most prisons, and dilutes the votes of every resident of districts with fewer prisons. The new law corrects this bias, requiring that incarcerated persons be counted as residents of their home communities, in accordance with the New York State Constitution’s provision that incarceration does not change one’s residence. The legislation applies to state and local legislative redistricting, and does not affect federal funding distributions.

The most dramatic examples of prison-based gerrymandering were in upstate counties and cities.  For example, half of a Rome City Council ward drawn after the 2000 census 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 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 – most notably her own, which contains 12,000 incarcerated persons – to include prison populations in their apportionment counts to the detriment of all other districts without prisons.

Returning to this practice would have not only unfairly inflated the districts of those with prisons at the expense of those without but would have also violated the New York State Constitution.

In December 2011, New York Supreme Court Judge Eugene Devine upheld New York’s law ending prison-based gerrymandering. His decision squarely rejected the plaintiffs’ claim that the New York law violated various provisions of the New York State Constitution. Although the plaintiffs attempted to appeal directly to the New York Court of Appeals, they declined to hear the appeal in February. In March of 2012, the plaintiffs completely dropped their challenge. The most recent round of redistricting complied with the law, bringing consistency to the redistricting process in New York, and prohibiting both the state and local governments from giving extra political influence to districts that contain prisons.

Intervenors and Counsel

The intervenors were:

  • Fifteen voters, from both urban and rural districts, who will suffer unfairly distorted representation in state or local government for various reasons, should the new law be overturned.

The proposed intervenors also included:

  • NAACP New York State Conference -- The Conference is the state-level body of the NAACP, a membership organization dedicated to protecting and enhancing the civil rights of African Americans and other people of color. The Conference has approximately 90,000 members statewide. 
  • Common Cause / New York -- CC/NY is the New York branch of Common Cause, a nationwide, nonpartisan organization with 20,000 members in New York State. The group advocates for honest, accountable, and responsive government.
  • Voices of Community Activists and Leaders - New York, or VOCAL-NY -- VOCAL-NY is a statewide grassroots membership organization building power among low-income people who are living with and affected by HIV/AIDS, drug use and incarceration, along with the organizations that serve them, to create healthy and just communities.

In addition to the Prison Policy Initiative, the groups providing counsel to the intervenors include the Brennan Center for Justice, the Center for Law and Social Justice, Dēmos, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, and the New York Civil Liberties Union.

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