March 9, 2012

Three-judge panel in EDNY adopts Willkie’s arguments in taking control of NY State’s redistricting process, denying motions to dismiss filed by NY’s legislative leaders and protecting voters from "disastrous scenario."

On March 8, a three-judge panel in the Eastern District of New York upheld a lawsuit asking the Court to take control of New York State’s redistricting process, denying the motions to dismiss filed by New York’s legislative leaders including Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos. The lawsuit was filed by a group of civic leaders from around New York who are represented pro bono by Willkie.

In their complaint, Willkie’s clients stated that New York’s redistricting process, which must be completed before the 2012 elections to account for changes in population as reflected in the 2010 census, was at an impasse. The Governor promised to veto any redistricting plan that was not the product of an independent process, and the legislators had failed to impose such an independent process, despite having promised to do so in 2010 when they were seeking their current offices. The complaint stated that if this impasse continued, it would put New York’s elections in jeopardy, thus threatening the votes of not just the plaintiffs but of all of New York’s citizens. The legislative leaders moved to dismiss, arguing that the plaintiffs lacked standing to sue and that the suit was unripe because the Legislature was still working on the redistricting process.

In denying the motions to dismiss, the three-judge Court adopted Willkie’s arguments against those motions. The Court found that the plaintiffs had standing to sue because their particular votes were at risk as a result of this impasse, in addition to the votes of all other New Yorkers. The Court also concluded that the action is ripe in light of the impasse identified by the plaintiffs, the inability of legislative leaders to point to any progress in the redistricting process, the impending start of the political calendar, and the fact that court-supervised redistricting takes time to accomplish. Echoing Willkie’s argument, the Court found that if it were to give the Legislature more time, then there might not be enough time remaining before the election for the Court to draw its own lines, and then all New Yorkers would risk losing their legislative representation. "The court must not wait to intervene until after such a disastrous scenario comes to pass."

This written decision follows the appointment, at the request of Willkie, of the three-judge panel consisting of Circuit Judges Reena Raggi and Gerard Lynch and District Judge Dora Irizarry, and the panel’s summary order denying the motions to dismiss. As requested by Willkie’s clients in their complaint, the Court appointed Magistrate Judge Roanne Mann to act as a Special Master in preparing a congressional redistricting plan, and the Court’s order to Judge Mann directed that she apply the neutral criteria advanced by Willkie’s clients. The Special Master’s report is due to the Court in mid-March, and the Court is expected to order the Court-drawn congressional districts into effect in time for the March 20 start of the candidate petitioning period.

The matter, which continues to receive significant media attention, is being handled by partner Richard Mancino, associates Daniel Burstein, Jeffrey Williams, Ian Christy, Laura Spillane and Erin McLeod, and legal assistant Rebecca Hutcheon.

Read the Eastern District’s Decision.

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