Little v. LATFOR (Prisoner Gerrymandering Case)

LatinoJustice PRLDEF joined several civil rights groups in seeking a motion to intervene in a lawsuit brought in the New York State Supreme Court, Albany County in Spring 2011.

We successfully intervened in this action brought by New York State Senator Elizabeth Little and other upstate elected officials and constituents that seeks to challenge New York’s new law allocating incarcerated persons to their prior home districts for redistricting and reapportionment purposes.

Co-counsel included the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, NY Civil Liberties Union, Brennan Center for Justice, Medgar Evers Center for Law & Social Justice, Demos, Prison Policy Initiative, and Sidney Rosdeitcher. LatinoJustice, along with the above group of legal organizations, is representing three nonprofit groups: NAACP NYS Conference, Common Cause of NY, and Voices of Community Activists and Leaders – NY (“VOCAL-NY”) and fifteen voters from both urban and rural districts.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's office is defending the New York Department of Correctional Services who are required by the new law to transmit the prisoner’s last known residence to LATFOR in the action. LatinoJustice and its co-counsel intervened to help defend NY’s new law allocating people in prison to their previous home communities for redistricting and reapportionment purposes.

Among the fifteen individual voters who will suffer unfairly distorted representation in state or local government for various reasons, should the new law be overturned is LatinoJustice client Steven Mangual, a lifelong resident of the Bronx except for a period when he was counted as a resident of Sullivan County during the 2000 Census. His affidavit eloquently addresses how prisoner gerrymandering directly and negatively impacts the votes of Black & Latino voters, and that if the lawsuit were successful in invalidating the law, his vote would be diluted in violation of the “one person one vote” rule.

Previously, legislative districts with prisons were credited with the population of the disenfranchised people temporarily incarcerated there. This practice, often called prison-based gerrymandering, gives extra influence to voters who live in the district with the most prisons which are typically upstate, and dilutes the votes of every resident of districts with fewer prisons, usually urban cities in NY such as NYC, Buffalo, Syracuse, and Albany. For example, half of a Rome City Council ward is incarcerated, giving residents of that ward twice the influence of other city residents.

The new law enacted in 2010 corrects this bias, requiring that incarcerated persons be counted as residents of their home communities, in accordance with the New York Constitution's provision that incarceration like attending college does not change one’s permanent residence. The legislation applies to state and local legislative redistricting, and would not affect federal funding distributions.

The lawsuit seeks to have this 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.

In early December 2011, New York Supreme Court Justice Eugene Devine rendered a decision upholding New York's law ending prison-based gerrymandering and dismissing the lawsuitt. His decision squarely rejected the plaintiffs' claim of the New York law violated various provisions for the new york State Constitution.

To read more about the decision, click here.

For more information about the case and prison-based gerrymandering, please visit The Brennan Center For Justice website or the Prison Policy Initiative's Prisoners of the Census website.

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