ADVISORY: Tomorrow (10/4) Civil Rights Groups to Defend Law Ending Prison-Based Gerrymandering in NY Supreme Court Hearing

October 3, 2011

MEDIA ADVISORY: For October 4, 2011

Please Contact:
Brennan Center for Justice Andrew Goldston (646) 292-8372
Center for Law & Social Justice April Silver (718) 756-8501
Demos Anna Pycior (212) 633-1408
LatinoJustice John Garcia (212) 739-7513
NAACP-LDF Mel Gagarin (212) 965-2783
NYCLU Michael Cummings (212) 607-3300 x363
Prison Policy Initiative Peter Wagner (413) 527-0845

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 will present oral arguments at a hearing in New York Supreme Court tomorrow, Tuesday, Oct. 4. The case is Little v. LATFOR. The organizations representing the fifteen voters in court are the Brennan Center for Justice, the Center for Law and Social Justice, Dēmos, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, the New York Civil Liberties Union, and the Prison Policy Initiative..

The hearing will take place at 10 am, Tuesday, Oct. 4
Albany County Courthouse, 16 Eagle Street, Albany, NY 12207

On Aug. 4, Judge Devine granted the fifteen voters from across New York State permission to intervene in the lawsuit to defend the law. The 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 state and local redistricting and reapportionment, but does not affect funding distributions. This tracks with the New York State Constitution’s explicit provision that incarceration does not change one’s residence.

New York State Senator Elizabeth Little and a group of co-plaintiffs are seeking to restore New York’s former practice, which artificially inflated the voting strength of select 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 Aug. 4, the New York State Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment announced that it would comply with the law. This was 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.

A recent Quinnipiac University poll reported that public opinion is decidedly against prison-based gerrymandering, with a majority of New York State voters agreeing 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 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 Prison Policy Initiative’s web page for Little v. LATFOR,

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