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Judge rules prisoner can be counted in home districts

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In a blow to Senate Republicans today, New York Supreme Court Judge Eugene Devine ruled that the law to have prisoners in state facilities be counted at their last known address prior to incarceration is, in fact, constitutionally legal. The ruling makes the likelihood of tens of thousands of prisoners being counted in downstate districts for redistricting purposes increasingly more likely.

The decision is after the jump at the end.

"Though inmates may be physically found in the location of their respective correctional facilities at the time the census is conducted, there is nothing in the record to indicate that such inmates have any actual permanency in these locations or have an intent to remain," Judge Devine said in his decision.

"Today's decision by Judge Devine is a victory for fundamental fairness and equal representation,” Attorney General Schneiderman, whose office argued in defense of the reallocation law, said in a statement. “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.”

As I wrote when the case was first heard back in October, Judge Devine was asking tough questions of the defense:

The Senate Republican attorney David Lewis was not available for comment, but Senate staffer, who had spoken with Lewis, said the judge, Eugene Devine, did indeed have questions for the defense, interrupting their explanations to ask clarifying questions. The Republican source said the senate plaintiffs were taking this as a good sign, suggesting the judge might have found the reasoning suspect.

It appears Judge Devine was convinced that counting methods that were different from the census process or previous state methods passed muster.

In March 2010, [Census Bureau Director Robert] Groves stated that the Census Bureaus counts individuals as their "usual residence" and that, for inmates in particular, states were free to decide the manner in which prisoners were counted, namely, at the prisons, at their pre-incarceration addresses or altogether removed from "redistricting formulas," where residential information was unavailable.

Senate Democrats, who have the most to potentially gain in the process, are understandably pleased with the outcome. "The time for delay is over. The Senate Republicans and LATFOR must immediately comply with the law. Any further delay is an outrageous and illegal assault on Democracy," said Senate Democrats spokesperson Mike Murphy.

David Lewis, who argued the case for the defendants, said his clients planned to appeal. "We're looking to appeal directly to the [Federal] Court of Appeals because of the constitutional issue and the timing," he said.

Dale Ho, who argued the case on behalf of the NAACP, said he didn't expect a different result. "I think the appellate courts will understand that Judge Devine got this exactly right," he said.

Senate Republican took the decision in stride, with spokesman Scott Reif saying confidently in a statement, "We will review the judge's decision, but regardless of the final outcome of this lawsuit Republicans will expand our majority in the Senate next year."

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