The Center for Law and Social Justice (CLSJ)is scrutinizing the decision by the NYS Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment (LATFOR) to increase the number of New York State Senate seats to 63 based on methodology used in 2002 after the 2000 census. The average number represented by State Senators will increase by 1,284 to 307,356 per Senate district. Based on requirements in the NYS Constitution, the number of Assembly seats will remain 150, but will increase by 2,579 for a total of 129,089 per district.
Dr. Esmeralda Simmons states the Center for Law and Social Justice is “now observing the battle of the experts.”
According to Dr. Simmons, “The Senate Republicans have hired an attorney who says his interpretation of the New York State Constitution calls for 63 Senate seats.” Alternatively, “Another well-known expert who has been one of the champions of creating people of color districts of New York state by the name of Todd Breitbart has also put forth his interpretation of the New York State Constitution regarding how many Senate seats are to be drawn or how many Senate seats the data demand to be drawn,” Dr. Simmons said. “His interpretation, and one that is cheered on by the Senate Democrats, says that the constitutional formula calls for 62 Senate seats.”
Dr. Simmons outlined CLSJ’s response. “At this point in time the Center for Law and Social Justice is waiting to see what LATFOR actually draws —Whether they draw 63 or 62. I am pretty sure that Senate Republicans will draw 63 – and what those 63 districts look like in terms of protecting minority voting strength,” she said. “If they draw 63 Senate seats and there is not an increase in the number of Senate seats in communities of color then there is going to be a serious problem. Even if there isn’t an increase, there will still be litigation that will probably follow about which interpretation is correct.”
Explaining the political nature of this redistricting process, Dr. Simmons said, “Under general circumstances, if this were a completely objective nonpolitical process, the smaller the district and the greater number of districts usually equates to a greater number of seats that can be wielded by minority voting strength. However this is not an objective circumstance. This is a circumstance that is anything but apolitical. It is extremely partisan. There is no objective interpretation that has been put forth by LATFOR at this point. I am sure that this will all wind up in federal court.”
Dr. Simmons said the Center for Law and Social Justice has successfully intervened in the Favors case in the Eastern District of New York. Favors is a voting rights case that challenged the fact that redistricting has not as of yet occurred. “We were the first group to successfully intervene in that case and we intend to be a vanguard for voting rights for people of color in New York City, particularly people of African dissent,” said Dr. Simmons.
“We will respond to LATFOR’s maps and we will be in court when this entire issue is being argued,” Dr. Simmons said. “We will be able to put forward a position that looks at the circumstances as they are. Our colleagues in the Unity Map — the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), Latino Justice PRLDEF, National Institute for Latino Policy (NILP) — have also intervened in the Favors case.”
The groups that collaborated on the Unity Map have come out with a congressional plan, and a second Senate map which supersedes their first Senate map. Their second Senate map includes 62 districts but does not include the prison data.
Since LATFOR is now following the law regarding the Prisoner Adjustment Act, they have released the prisoner adjustment data. “But, by the time they released it practically everyone engaged in the process had drawn maps,” said Dr. Simmons. “The real question that some people are asking is ‘are we going to draw a new set of maps with the prison data and 63 Senate seats?’ At this point in time, the Center intends to see what LATFOR proposes and then act accordingly. We will take whatever steps are necessary to make sure that the record is clear as to the best possible solution for people of color in New York City.”