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Little v. LATFOR (Defending a state law that ended prison-based gerrymandering)

This case involves a challenge to a New York law allocating people in prison to their home communities for redistricting and reapportionment. The NYCLU, Brennan Center for Justice, the Center for Law and Social Justice, Dēmos, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the Prison Policy Initiative, representing 15 rural and urban voters, are defending the law, which was enacted in 2010, against a legal challenge brought by State Sen. Elizabeth Little, R-45th District, and others. The lawsuit names the New York State Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment (LATFOR) and the Department of Corrections and Community Services as defendants. The New York State Attorney General’s office is representing DOCCS.

On May 17, 2011, the seven civil rights organizations filed a motion to intervene in the lawsuit on behalf of three statewide nonprofit organizations and 15 individuals. On Aug. 8, 2011, a State Supreme Court judge granted the 15 individuals intervenor status. The judge declined to allow the three nonprofit groups to intervene. The new law, known as “Part XX,” requires that incarcerated persons be allocated to their home communities for redistricting and reapportionment. This tracks with the New York State Constitution’s explicit provision that incarceration does not change one’s residence. Part XX applies to state and local legislative redistricting, and would not affect federal funding distributions. 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 counts to the detriment of all other districts without prisons. This practice, widely known as “prison-based gerrymandering,” inflated the voting weight of a few communities at the expense of many others.

On Aug. 19, 2011, attorneys for the 15 voters filed papers asking a judge to grant their motion for summary judgment and uphold the law. In December 2011, New York Supreme Court Justice Eugene Devine ruled that the law was constitutional. The plaintiffs then sought to go directly to the Court of Appeals, bypassing the Supreme Court’s Appellate Division. The Court of Appeals declined to hear plaintiffs’ direct appeal on February 14. Plaintiffs then filed documents with the Appellate Division withdrawing the appeal. In March 2012, plaintiffs withdrew their appeal, allowing the law to stand.

State Supreme Court, Albany County, Index No. 2310-2011 (direct) 

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