Baltimore, MD – Strongly contending that the Republican-sponsored challenge to Maryland’s landmark 2010 civil rights law, the “No Representation Without Population Act,” runs directly contrary to its plaintiffs’ goal of increased representation for Maryland’s African-American community, a coalition of civil rights groups today announces that an amicus brief has been filed to counter misinformation and defend the landmark civil rights law. The brief was filed with a specially-convened three-judge federal court on behalf of the Howard University School of Law Civil Rights Clinic, ACLU of Maryland, Maryland State Conference of NAACP Branches, Somerset County Branch of the NAACP, NAACP Legal Defense And Educational Fund, Inc., Prison Policy Initiative, and Demos.
In related news, a separate lawsuit (Little v. LATFOR) brought to challenge a New York law – inspired by Maryland’s No Representation Without Population Act– was dismissed on Friday by the NY State Supreme Court, which upholds the validity of this important reform.
In the coalition amicus brief, the groups make clear that Maryland’s first-in-the-nation law requiring the state to count incarcerated persons at their home addresses is protective of minority voting rights. Although incarcerated persons are not allowed to vote, prison populations previously were used to pad the populations of districts that contained prisons. That practice diluted the vote of every Maryland resident who did not live near the prison complex in western Maryland, and had a particularly negative effect on African-American communities that experience disproportionate rates of incarceration.
Moreover, the No Representation Without Population Act simply has nothing to do with the core issues in this case. The ability to create a third majority African American congressional district is not diminished in any way by allocating incarcerated persons to their home communities. In fact, the No Representation Without Population Act actually enhances the representation of most of the plaintiffs in the case, precisely because it properly credits the population of African-American communities.
Brenda Wright, Director of the Democracy Program at Demos, said: “The No Representation Without Population Act was designed to end distortions caused by counting incarcerated persons as members of communities to which they have no connection. Counting incarcerated persons at their home residence allows Maryland to draw accurate districts in line with the principle of one person one vote.”
Deborah Jeon, Legal Director for the ACLU of Maryland, said: “Before the No Representation Without Population Act, the voting power of African-American communities was literally being siphoned off through the criminal justice system and redirected to primarily rural areas. It is unconscionable to bring back the old system of using disenfranchised – and disproportionately African-American – prison populations to pad white electoral districts.”
Peter Wagner, Executive Director of the Prison Policy Initiative, and co-author of Importing Constituents: Incarcerated People and Political Clout in Maryland, said: “The State of Maryland should be saluted — not sued — for counting incarcerated people in the correct location.”
Dale Ho, Assistant Counsel, NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc., said: "The landmark "No Representation Without Population" legislation enhances representation for minority communities. By calling for the law's repeal, the Fletcher plaintiffs are undermining minority voting power in Maryland, not promoting it, and are jeopardizing equality throughout the state."
Gerald Stansbury, President of the Maryland NAACP, said: “The No Representation Without Population Act ensures that the one man one vote principle is meaningfully applied in Maryland by counting incarcerated persons, who are not allowed to vote, in the district where they last lived. The new law brings us closer to fair representation of minorities throughout the State of Maryland."
Kirkland Hall, President of the Somerset County NAACP, said: “We respect the rights of all citizens residing in our county, including those at the prison, but allowing non-voting incarcerated persons to distort the election system is just not fair. Somerset County's inclusion of the prison in our past redistricting plans has proven to be an obstacle in our efforts to obtain elected minority representation. That's why we wholeheartedly support the ‘No Representation without Population Act.’”
Passage of the No Representation Without Population Act was supported by a strong coalition: the ACLU of Maryland, Maryland State Conference of NAACP Branches, the Somerset County Branch of the NAACP, the Prison Policy Initiative, and Demos. The Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland played a key role in securing the bill’s passage, especially the leadership of bill sponsors Senator Catherine Pugh (D-Baltimore City) and Delegate Joseline Pena-Melnyk (D-Prince George’s).
Learn more online: http://www.prisonersofthecensus.org/fletcher/