DOJ Pre-Clears NY Senate Redistricting Lines


As I expected the US Department of Justice has pre-cleared the state’s legislative redistricting plan. On Friday, Assistant US Attorney Thomas Perez, head of the Civil Rights Division, sent a letter to lawyers for the NYS Senate Majority saying that the DOJ has pre-cleared the new state legislative (i.e., Assembly/Senate) reapportionment plan. The senate redistricting plan had come under fire from the Senate’s Democratic Minority and voting rights advocates. DOJ preclearance is required in accordance with Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which covers minority voters in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Manhattan.

This pre-clearance approval by the DOJ does not preclude the federal district courts in Washington, DC and the Eastern District of NY from considering alleged Section 2 violations.

In a January 9 OpED, Time to End Voting Rights Review,  I suggested that it was time for New York State to apply for relief from Section 5 pre-clearance review. The state simply certifies that during the past 10 years it has not engaged in any practice constituting voter discrimination, has complied with the pre-clearance rules and faces no pending lawsuits. In the last two rounds of redistricting, the DOJ has pre-cleared the congressional and state legislative plans.

“Back in 1971 – when Manhattan, Brooklyn and The Bronx first became subject to oversight under the VRA – racial and language minorities were not meaningfully participating in the electoral process. The City Board of Election required a literacy test that kept many non-English-speaking citizens from voting – and election and ballot materials were available in English only. More than half the voting-age population either wasn’t registered to vote or failed to vote in the 1968 presidential election.

Today, racial or language minorities in these counties freely and openly participate in elections, and have elected candidates of their choice. And (at enormous expense) the city Boards of Election print election and ballot materials in English, Spanish and three other languages.”

As in January, I continue to believe that it is time for New York to activate the bail-out provision and end federal pre-clearance review. Residents of the Section 5 covered counties are fully and freely participate in the political process.

In New York county (Manhattan), an African American heads the Democratic County Committee. An African American leads the state Assembly’s powerful Ways and Means Committee. In the Bronx, the Democratic county leader is an African American, the borough president is Puerto Rican, the district attorney is African American, and a Puerto Rican councilman serves as the City Council’s Majority Leader. Brooklyn boasts two black Members of Congress, a Latina Member of Congress, and a black state senator is the Senate Minority Leader.

The only potent argument against removing the pre-clearance review concerns the proposed constitutional amendment creating an independent redistricting commission. Ceding redistricting to an unelected appointed panel that may not be as representative as the state legislature does not thrill voting rights advocates. Leaving pre-clearance in place, at least, through 2014 — when the state legislature must pass the constitutional amendment for a second time — will ensure Justice Department review.

On the other hand, voters will still be able to bring legal challenges under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. The VRA should continue to be reauthorized  or to ensure protection of minority voting rights into perpetuity, it may be added to the US Constitution as an amendment.

What do you think?

Read more: DOJ Pre-Clears NY Senate Redistricting Lines | New York Daily News. See also, Justice Dept. does not object to 63rd Senate seat.

About SquarePegDem

A former state legislator turned NY Post editorial board member, thought-leader, public affairs consultant and commentator, columnist and blogger. Michael has appeared on Al Jazeera America Tonight, NY1/Inside City Hall, FoxNews.com LIVE, YNN/Capital Tonight, The Brian Lehrer Show, The Fred Dicker Show, The Capitol Press Room, and The Daily Show. His op-eds have appeared in the NY Post, City and State, The Legislative Gazette, Bronx Times, The Troy Record, Buffalo News, and the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. To schedule speaking engagements, email MBenjamin9@optimum.net.
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