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Post date: December 2 2011

A.G. Schneiderman Announces Legal Victory In Prison Gerrymandering Lawsuit


ALBANY – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced a legal victory upholding the state’s law that counts inmates in their home communities, rather than the districts where they are incarcerated, for the purpose of drawing legislative district lines. As a lawmaker, Schneiderman was the leading proponent of the legislation, which passed in 2010.

"Today's decision by Judge Devine is a victory for fundamental fairness and equal representation.  The court affirmed the legality of counting incarcerated individuals in their home communities for the purposes of redrawing district lines, rather than the districts where they are in prison,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “As a lawmaker, I fought to end the practice of prison-based gerrymandering that distorted the democratic process and undermined the principle of ‘one person, one vote.’ This decision affirms and applies a fair standard to the drawing of state legislative districts and makes it easier for counties to do the same by providing them with an accurate data set.”

Until 2010, New York drew legislative districts around prisons and counted the people confined there as residents of the prison, allowing the non-voting prison population to award greater legislative representation to districts that contain prisons at the expense of the prisoners' home communities.

“Prison-based gerrymandering violates the basic principle of one person, one vote -- that all individuals should have an equal voice in the democratic process,” said Assistant Counsel NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc. Dale Ho. “By upholding the state’s historic law, today's decision has taken a tremendous step forward, toward an electoral system that will represent all communities fairly and equally. We thank Attorney General Schneiderman for championing and aggressively defending this law.” 

“To have effective political representation, we need a fair and equitable drawing of political district lines. Common Cause/New York hails today's victory and the state's zealous defense of our law that finally ended the injustice of prison-based gerrymandering. By following the statute, New York’s redistricting practices comes into alignment with our own state constitution and the requirements of federal voting rights law,” said Executive Director of Common Cause New York Susan Lerner

"Today marks a major victory in the fight to end the odious practice of prison-based gerrymandering – the distortion in our democratic process caused by counting people where they are confined, not where they come from.  Attorney General Schneiderman is to be congratulated for his leadership ending prison-based gerrymandering. Senator Schneiderman worked for 5 years to pass this law, and as Attorney General he ensured that this civil rights victory would be protected, “said Peter Wagner, Executive Director of the Prison Policy Initiative and author of Importing Constituents: Prisoners and Political Clout in New York.

“This is a victory for simple democracy and the rule of law. Until last year, New York legislative districts were constructed on the backs of 'ghost voters.’  Districts were packed with prisoners who could not vote, but padded the population totals. At the same time, their home communities were severely under-represented in our government,” said Executive Director of the Brennan Center Michael Waldman. “Today's decision upholds the law passed last year by Attorney General Schneiderman that finally ensured that all communities in New York have equal representation and an equal voice in our government.”

“Citizens Union commends the court for its wisdom in recognizing that prisoners are best represented by being counted in their home districts rather than in faraway locations where they are temporarily imprisoned. Prisoners should not be treated as pawns as part of a redistricting process that is all too often politically manipulated to benefit the majority parties in power. This ruling today should remove any uncertainty that the entity charged with drawing congressional and state legislative maps- the Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment (LATFOR)- should promptly and fully implement the law passed by the legislature. We congratulate Attorney General Schneiderman for his role in passing this important legislation while in the state senate and for his successful defense as attorney general. This is a significant step in achieving a fairer system for drawing district maps,” said Executive Director Dick Dadey.

“Today’s decision upholds the fairness of recognizing imprisoned people as residents of their home communities rather than some remote community where they are incarcerated,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. “It brings more fairness to voting in New York.”

“People who have been incarcerated know that a prison cell is not a home. Today's decision upholding the law that eliminates prison-based gerrymandering recognizes that fact and brings New York State one step closer to ending the treatment of people in prison as a commodity," said Community Service Society President David Jones.

“Upholding our law to end the practice of prison-based gerrymandering law is a huge victory for democracy. The new law promises a fair and equal division of political representation across the state, and we thank Attorney General Schneiderman for his leadership in writing the law and defending it,” said Democracy Program Director Brenda Wright.

The case was handled by Assistant Attorneys General Stephen M. Kerwin, Michael G. McCartin, Justin C. Levin, and Joel Graber, under the supervision of Litigation Bureau Chief Jeffrey Dvorin and Deputy Attorney General Meg Levine in Albany, and Executive Deputy Attorney General for State Counsel Kent Stauffer.  

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