Judge Rules Proposed Redistricting Commission NOT Independent

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  • Susan Lerner
BOE must remove "independent" from ballot language for Proposition 1

NEW YORK, NY (09/17/2014) — In a strongly worded decision, Albany Supreme Court Judge Patrick McGrath ruled unequivocally that the proposed redistricting commission: “cannot be described as ‘independent’ when eight out of the ten members are the handpicked appointees of the legislative leaders and the two additional members are essentially political appointees by proxy”.

Judge McGrath further rejected the notion that the Commission could produce an independent set of legislative maps since: “the Commission’s plan is little more than a recommendation to the Legislature which can reject it for unstated reasons and draw its own lines”. In no uncertain terms, the Judge found that: “The plan can be rejected for the purely partisan reasons that this Commission was designed to avoid”.

In perhaps the most stunning rebuke, Judge McGrath ruled that the unique voting rules for the commission would be entirely unprecedented in New York State history: “The Court is not aware of any other law in New York State that has ever required a Commission or any legislative body’s vote approval to be dependent on the political make-up of the Legislature.”

As such, the Board of Election is instructed to remove the word “independent” from the language, which will appear on the November ballot as Proposition 1.

The decision is a major victory for reformers who brought the petition in an effort to give voters the most objective description of the commission on which to base their decision. The petitioners were represented by Neil Steiner, a litigation partner in the New York office of Dechert LLP.

“Common Cause/NY is grateful for the Court’s common sense ruling: the redistricting commission cannot be described as independent because it isn’t. As the Judge made clear, this Commission would only be a proxy for the Legislature. Voters deserve the same straight talk when they go to cast their ballot in November. Common Cause/NY will be urging voters not to be fooled and to reject Proposition 1 on Election Day,” said Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause/NY

“To exercise the right to vote – the very core of our democracy – voters must be given fair and accurate information. We’re pleased that the court recognized that describing the proposed commission as “independent”, when it so clearly is not, unfairly tilted the playing field, and stopped the Board of Elections from doing so,” said Mr. Steiner.

About Neil Steiner

Mr. Steiner is a litigation partner in the New York office of Dechert LLP. In addition to his active practice representing corporations, hedge funds, private equity funds and their senior executives in government investigations and financial litigation, he devotes significant time to pro bono matters. He is member of the Board of Directors of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. He was lead counsel for plaintiffs challenging the State of Ohio’s failure to provide voter registration applications to applicants for public assistance, and obtained the Sixth Circuit’s ruling, in a matter of first impression, that federal law required state officials to ensure compliance by political subdivisions of the State. The subsequent settlement of that litigation has resulted in more than 400,000 low-income Ohio citizens registering to vote in the last two years. Mr. Steiner was subsequently lead counsel for the Georgia State Conference of the NAACP in a similar litigation against the State of Georgia, where he won a ruling that the federal law applies to public assistance applications submitted by telephone or over the internet in addition to in-person applications, and is currently lead counsel on behalf of the Las Vegas and Reno NAACP and the National Council of La Raza in a similar litigation against the State of Nevada. Most recently, as co-lead counsel working with the American Civil Liberties Union, he won an injunction against Wisconsin’s voter photo identification law following a two-week bench trial in federal court in Milwaukee.

About Petitioners/Plaintiffs

Howard Leib, Esq. of Ithaca. Mr. Leib was also a named plaintiff in the Favors redistricting litigation and is active in the Democratic Lawyers Council.

Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause/NY.

Eric Walker, of Buffalo. Mr. Walker is a community activist and a Racial Equality Fellow at the Center for Social Inclusion. He is also a member of the Environmental Justice Action Group of Western New York, as well as a co-founder of PUSH-Buffalo.

Eleanor Moretta, of Brooklyn. Ms. Moretta, a grassroots activist, is a member of the Common Cause/NY Board.