Why is it important for civil rights and good government groups to to be granted status as intervenor defendants in a lawsuit about counting prisoners in redistricting?
Because the legislative commission charged with drawing the lines, LATFOR, hasn't exactly been vigorous in defending itself in a lawsuit filed about the issue, they say.
"As far as I know, LATFOR has not entered an appearance. All they've done is sent a letter to the judge saying a speedy disposition is important," said Dale Ho, a lawyer with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. "They haven't even moved to defend the statute. From the perspective of our clients, that's problematic: if one of the entities defending the statute isn't even doing so, then there needs to be an opportunity for those protected by the statute to have their rights defended."
This makes perfect sense: LATFOR is co-chaired by Assemblyman Jack McEneny, D-Albany and Sen. Mike Nozzolio, R-Seneca County. Nozzolio has expressed doubts about the legality of a 2010 law that directed LATFOR to count prison inmates at their last home address instead of at their jail cells. Counting inmates in jail has been derided as prison-based gerrymandering, and inflates population in upstate, rural, largely Republican areas at the expense of downstate, urban, largely Democratic precincts.
Several of Nozzolio's Republican colleagues in the Senate, including Betty Little of Queensbury, are plaintiffs in the suit. LATFOR is so-far ignoring the new law, which is causing groups like the NAACP to cry foul.
The request for intervenor status is pending before Judge Eugene Devine.
(Also, a quick clarification: my article today didn't specify which groups on the intervention request are actors and which are their legal representatives. The groups requesting to intervene are Common Cause New York, NAACP New York State Conference, and Voices of Community Activists and Leaders- New York (VOCAL-NY). They are represented legally by the Brennan Center for Justice, the Center for Law and Social Justice at Medgar Evers College, Demos, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (NAACP-LDF), the New York Civil Liberties Union Foundation, and the Prison Policy Initiative.