Federal judge gives big push to redistricting lawsuit
Monday, February 13, 2012 - 09:21 PM
A federal court in Brooklyn gave the green light to a redistricting lawsuit that could see a judge begin drawing state and congressional district lines.
US District Court Judge Dora Irizarry handed down her ruling late on Monday, asking a higher court judge to establish a three-judge panel to review the lawsuit filed by a group of New York voters. The judge also asked that a special master be appointed to "oversee and draw up a redistricting plan that is in compliance with federal and state...law."
Last month Judge Gary Sharpe, who had previously established June 26 as the date for the state's congressional primary, ruled on the calendar for this year's election cycle. The decision set March 20 as the date for candidates to begin petitioning.
In her decision, Judge Irizarry noted that no congressional lines have been presented to the public, despite the fact that potential candidates for the primary have to be ready to petition in six weeks. As the process currently stands, the legislature would need to pass the lines, Governor Andrew Cuomo would need to sign it, and the Department of Justice would have to have enough time to pre-clear the proposed lines based on the federal Voting Rights Act.
Notably, defendants, in their motion to dismiss, simply rely on the history of past redistricting legislation that was passed and signed into law at the eleventh hour for support of their position that the appoint of a three-judge panel is premature at this point. They point to no affirmative steps being taken by the New York State Legislature at this time or that will be taken in the near future to pass redistricting legislation that will comply with both the New York State and Untited States Constititutions and New York and Federal statues governing these issues.
The plaintiffs in the case--individual New York voters, as well as civic groups enjoining the case on their behalf--sent a letter to Irizarry after Sharpe's ruling last week, asking her to expedite the case. The defendants--members of LATFOR, as well as statewide elected officials--had asked that the case be dismissed.
It's up to the Appeals Court judge to decide now how to proceed.
[Statement from Richard Mancino and Daniel Burstein of Willkie Farr & Gallagher, counsel to Plaintiffs: “The Court’s decision today is a major step forward in our efforts to have a Court-appointed Special Master draw independent district lines. We are gratified that the Court recognized the danger legislative inaction poses to the fair conduct of New York’s elections and is taking steps to protect the voters of our State.”]