PRLDEF asks Department of Justice to Intervene and Stop Selection of New Judge in Brooklyn

July 21, 2005
Contact: John Garcia, Director of Communications (212) 739-7513

The Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund (PRLDEF) today asked the Department of Justice to stop the Democratic and Republican parties from naming candidates for a newly created judgeship in Brooklyn because the position has not been approved by the department.

PRLDEF believes that designating candidates for the Nov. 8 general election without a primary or clearance by the Justice Department is in violation of the Voting Rights Act. PRLDEF charges that the New York Legislature, by creating the Surrogate Judge position in the manner it did, violated the Act.

Because of the history of racial discrimination in Brooklyn, the borough is covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act and is therefore subject to preclearance requirements when adding or removing a judicial position. The legislation created a new surrogate position and by virtue of the political calendar mandates that the leadership of the Brooklyn political parties choose its nominee without a primary election.

PRLDEF charges that the elimination of a primary election in an electoral process can severely reduce the ability for racial minorities to participate. This is especially true in Brooklyn in which the winner of the Democratic Party’s nomination is virtually assured victory in the general election.

The Democratic Party’s leadership will be able to pick the holder of this office for the next 14 years without minority voter participation. Because of this, PRLDEF has also asked the Justice Department to reject any preclearance request by the state.

“More than 20 years ago, PRLDEF intervened to stop the racial gerrymandering of the city council race,” said Cesar Perales, PRLDEF President and General Counsel. “We felt then that those political actions were detrimental to all voters, but especially minorities. We would have hoped that the lessons of the past would have improved the political process.”

PRLDEF also charges that the State chose August 1, 2005 as the effective date of the legislation in defiance of the Act’s requirement that the Department be given 60 days to preclear the creation of the judgeship. Under Section 5, the State is not to implement any legislation until receiving preclearance from the Department.

PRLDEF also pointed out to the Department that the new judicial position had not been part of any previous request regarding the need for new judgeships by the Office of Court Administration.

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