Civil Rights Groups Fight to end Prison-based Gerrymandering in NY

Posted on 05/25/2011 @ 03:50 PM

Last week, LatinoJustice PRLDEF was one of a group of top civil rights organizations that filed a motion in New York Supreme Court asking to intervene to help defend New York’s new law allocating people in prison to their home communities for redistricting and reapportionment.

The motion asks that the court uphold a law passed last year that would end the practice known as "prison-based gerrymandering," in which prison inmates were counted as residents in the communities where they were serving time, instead of their home communities.

It gives extra influence to voters who live in districts with the most prisons, and dilutes votes in districts with fewer prisons. The Defenders Online gives a good example of a City Council Ward in Rome, NY, where half of the constituents are incarcerated in the nearby prison, giving the other half of the residents basically double the power of political influence.

The new law dictates that prisoners be counted for census and redistricting purposes as members of the communities where they actually reside, and assures that all communities in New York have equal representation in our government.

But a group of NY state senators have sued to overturn the new law. The senators say the law violates the state Constitution, which says the federal Census record of the inhabitants of an area should be used for redistricting. You can read more about the lawsuit in this news story.

LatinoJustice filed the motion to dismiss this lawsuit along with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the Brennan Center for Justice, the Center for Law and Social Justice, Dmos, the New York Civil Liberties Union, and the Prison Policy Initiative.

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