Supreme Court meets today to decide whether to hear prison-based gerrymandering appeal

by Peter Wagner, June 21, 2012

The U.S. Supreme Court meets today to decide whether it will hear a case challenging Maryland’s first-in-the-nation law ending prison-based gerrymandering. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to announce on Monday whether or not it will hear the case. If the Court decides to hear the case, oral arguments would be in the fall, with a decision in the winter or spring.

Plaintiffs are seeking to overturn a unanimous ruling by a federal three judge panel last December that rejected their lawsuit seeking to overturn Maryland’s landmark “No Representation Without Population Act,” which counts incarcerated people as residents of their legal home addresses for redistricting purposes.

The Maryland law addressed a long-standing problem in the federal Census that counts incarcerated people as residents of the prison location, even though they cannot vote and retain their pre-incarcerated residences. For decades, using unadjusted Census data diluted the vote of every Maryland resident who did not live near the prison complex in western Maryland, and had a particularly negative effect on African-American communities that experience disproportionate rates of incarceration.

In their opinion, the Judges noted that the No Representation Without Population Act they upheld was an important Maryland civil rights victory:

“As the amicus brief [filed by the Prison Policy Initiative, Dēmos, 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] … makes clear, the Act was the product of years of work by groups dedicated to advancing the interests of minorities.” (p. 20)

Other versions of Maryland’s law have since passed in New York, Delaware and California. Maryland was the only state to apply its law to congressional redistricting, and the first state to complete the process after passing a law. A separate lawsuit challenging New York’s law ending prison-based gerrymandering was dismissed in New York Supreme Court.

2 Responses

  1. Wagner on Prison-Based Gerrymandering | Election Law Blog says, 22 hours, 41 minutes after publication:

    […] “Breaking the Census: Redistricting in an Era of Mass Incarceration.” He also has this blog post on the case challenging Maryland’s law ending prison-based gerrymandering. This entry […]

  2. Supreme Court upholds Maryland law ending prison-based gerrymandering; Huge victory for fair representation | Prisoners of the Census says, 3 days, 23 hours after publication:

    […] 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. […]

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