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WAMC New York News
Thu May 19, 2011
Civil Rights Organizations File Motion to Defend Law Ending Prison-Based Gerrymandering
By Dave Lucas
Albany, NY – A group of civil rights organizations have filed a motion in New York Supreme Court asking for intervention to help defend New York's new law allocating people in prison to their home communities for redistricting and reapportionment purposes. Capital District Bureau Chief Dave Lucas reports.
The collective that filed the motion includes the NAACP, Common Cause, and The Brennan Center, all seeking to defend the new law against a legal challenge brought by New York State Senator Betty Little and others.
The law was passed by the legislature and signed by Governor David Paterson last summer. It requires that prisoners 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.
Erika Wood is Deputy Director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice...
Someone who answered the phone at Senator Little's office said they were not responding to any media inquiries, directing the call to attorney David Lewis, who did not return calls.
Observers argue the law favors urban, mostly Democratic strongholds. They note that if inmates in mostly upstate prisoners are counted as residents of their cells, some sparsely populated upstate Republican districts would have more political clout.
Susan Lerner is the executive director of Common Cause New York...
In one rural upstate district, prisoners account for 12,000 people. Ramon Velasquez is a leader with VOCAL NEW YORK - he spent 26 years in an upstate prison - he calls Brooklyn "home"...
The US Census bureau leaves it up to the states to decide where to count prisoners.
What are the chances that New York's law that counts prisoners as still being residents of their last home town could actually be reversed?
A spokesman for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver answered my question in no uncertain terms - quote "We believe the statute is constitutional and will be upheld".