Albany, NY – Today, top civil rights organizations 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 Brennan Center for Justice, the Center for Law and Social Justice, Demos, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the New York Civil Liberties Union, and the Prison Policy Initiative, representing fifteen rural and urban voters and three statewide nonprofit organizations, are seeking to defend the new law against a legal challenge brought by New York State Senator Elizabeth Little and others. The lawsuit, titled Little v. LATFOR, names the New York State Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment (LATFOR) and the Department of Correctional Services (DOCS) as defendants.
The new law requires that incarcerated persons be counted as residents of their home communities, in accordance with the New York State Constitution's provision that incarceration does not change one's residence. The legislation applies to state and local legislative redistricting, and would not affect federal funding distributions.
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, and dilutes the votes of every resident of a district with no (or fewer) prisons. The new law corrects this bias and assures that all communities in New York have equal representation in our government.
The most dramatic examples of prison-based gerrymandering are in upstate counties and cities. For example, half of a Rome City Council ward is incarcerated, giving the residents of that ward twice the influence of other city residents. Recognizing the distorting effect of prison-based gerrymandering at the local level, thirteen New York counties with large prisons — including four in Senator Little's district — have historically exercised their discretion to remove the prison populations prior to redistricting.
The new law brings consistency to redistricting in New York, prohibiting the state and all local governments from giving extra political influence to districts that contain prisons. Sen. Little's lawsuit seeks to have the new 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. Returning to this practice would not only unfairly inflate the districts of those with prisons at the expense of those without but also violate the New York State Constitution.
The organizations seeking to intervene include:
Keep track of the case and find the legal documents at the Brennan Center's web page for Little v. LATFOR, www.brennancenter.org/littlevlatfor.
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