PRLDEF asks Department of Justice to stop Brooklyn political machine from appointing new surrogate judge

September 7, 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 a new surrogate judge from being appointed by the political machine in Brooklyn. In the letter opposing the process to select the judge, the fund and the law firm of Bickel and Brewer charged that the process used “deprives the racial minorities of Kings County of the voting rights they heretofore enjoyed.”

PRLDEF believes the process by which the judge will be selected – detailed in an 11th hour bill made in the waning moments of the legislative session – is a violation of the Voting Rights Act. PRLDEF complained that the process by which the judgeship is to be filled changed the practice of how candidates were historically nominated and did not protect the integrity of the election process.

“This legislation eliminates the primaries and takes that vote away from the racial minorities of Kings County and puts it securely in the hands of Democratic Party leadership,” said Cesar Perales, PRLDEF President and General Counsel. “Democratic voters are the dominant part of the electorate in Brooklyn and 65% are minorities.”

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. PRLDEF at first asked the DOJ to reject the new judgeship because the state had not asked for preclearance. The state soon sent a letter to the DOJ asking for permission to create the judgeship.

The legislation – which was passed with no debate or discussion - created a new surrogate position in Brooklyn. Because of the language and timing set forth in the bill, party leaders are permitted to bypass the primary election and select the candidates for the general election themselves.

The Democratic Party’s leadership will be able to pick the holder of this office for the next 14 years without minority voter participation.

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