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Nassau Republicans' redistricting plan shut down by court

STEPHON JOHNSON Amsterdam News Staff | 9/8/2011, 11:26 a.m.

Earlier this year, Republicans appeared to be poised to use a legal loophole to grab political power in Nassau County and disenfranchise African-American and Latino voters. Now it looks like that loophole wasn't much of a loophole after all.

On Tuesday the state's highest court threw out new boundaries that Nassau County Republicans had drawn for the county's 19 legislative districts this fall in an attempt to complete redistricting before upcoming elections.

In a 7-0 decision, the New York State Court of Appeals stated that the new plan can't go into effect until two years from now (2013). This reverses an Aug. 11 decision by the Second Judicial Department Appellate Panel, which voted in a 3-2 decision to uphold the new legislative districts drawn by the staff of Nassau County Attorney John Ciampoli earlier this year. Attorney Fred Brewington, who has been on the front lines fighting against the GOP's plan, spoke to the AmNews after the week's results.

"I think the decision by the court of appeals affirming Judge Jaeger of the Supreme Court stands to signal to the Republicans of Nassau County that they do not have license to disregard the voting rights of its citizens," Brewington said.

When asked if he thought the conservatives would continue their fight with full force, taking it to the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., he said, "I don't want to speak to them because they're unpredictable, but I don't believe the Supreme Court would ever entertain this case."

Scottie Coads, chair for civic engagement for the New York State Chapter of the NAACP, spoke with the AmNews as well and was also satisfied with the results. She had also played a part in the fight against the GOP.

"I think it's a great ruling, and I think it's a great beginning for what we're expecting going forward in hopes of getting the representation in Albany we want," she said.

"I think the voters should be made very aware of what the conservatives did to try and disenfranchise the voters," Coads continued. "Prior to this decision, it was really bleak for the minority community. We would not have had fair representation. We would have had whatever they wanted or deciding for us."

In May, Nassau County Republicans shoved through plans to redistrict much of the county, passing the legislation in a 10-to-8 single vote at the Nassau County Legislature. Many in the African-American community believed this would reduce their power and that representatives elected in the new districts wouldn't operate with their interests at heart. Legislator Denise Ford was the only Republican to vote against the redistricting plan.

Conservatives claimed to have found a loophole in one ordinance that said redistricting must be done in the six months after the release of new Census data. Jeffrey M. Wice, counsel to the New York State Democratic Conference, told the AmNews back in June that the GOP thinking was off-base.

"The Nassau County charter calls for a redistricting every 10 years and to have it done in time for the 2013 election. Not 2011," stated Wice. "Yes, there is some confusing language in the county charter that says that the new census data should be used to describe the 'old district' with the new census data. But it does not mean that the lines should be redrawn. We're only eight years into the current scheme."

Democratic Minority Leader Diane Yatauro of Glen Cove didn't mince words when voicing her opinion in May. "Not only is any redistricting of our county legislative districts premature and illegal, the proposed Republican redrawing shifts a half-million residents into new districts for a purely selfish, partisan advantage," she said.

"We must remember that the County Legislature was created in 1994 by a federal court decision that stipulated that minority residents were entitled to at least two single-member districts, where minority-preferred candidates would be elected."

For now, Nassau County's Black and Latino voting rights appear to be protected.