Senate leaders fight redistricting lawsuit
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) -- State Senators have asked a federal appeals court to reconsider reinstating a lawsuit that claims the stateï¿½s redistricting plan unfairly diluted the voting strength of black residents in Providence.
A three-judge panel last month reversed the decision by Chief U.S. District Judge Ernest C. Torres to dismiss the case.
But now Senate lawyers have filed a petition with the 1st Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, asking for a ï¿½rehearingï¿½ by the three-judge panelï¿½or by all six active circuit judges, according to The Providence Journal.
The Urban League, the Providence branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and the Black American Citizens Political Action Committee filed the lawsuit, claiming the stateï¿½s redistricting plan created an unfair disadvantage to black voters on Providenceï¿½s South Side.
The lawsuit came out of the legislative redistricting process, which coincided with last yearï¿½s downsizing of the General Assembly.
According to the petition, the U.S. Supreme Court has established that a minority group must make up more than 50 percent of a district in order to bring a minority-vote dilution suit under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.
In this case, the Senate map has cut the black population of a South Side district from 26 percent to 21 percent, and itï¿½s not possible to draw a district that is more than 26-percent black.
Allowing such a case to proceed ï¿½creates a conflict with the authoritative decisions of at least five U.S. Courts of Appeals,ï¿½ lawyer Victoria Almeida wrote in the petition. ï¿½No Court of Appeals, prior to this courtï¿½s Oct. 28, 2003, decision, had permitted a Section 2 minority-vote dilution claim to go forward without a showing that the ï¿½majority-districtï¿½ precondition could be met.ï¿½
ï¿½Such a novel and expansive interpretation of the act deserves reexamination,ï¿½ Almeida wrote.
Plaintiffsï¿½ lawyer Anita Earls said she is disappointed that the Senate is seeking a rehearing.
ï¿½Our goal all along has been: Let us have a trial,ï¿½ she said. ï¿½I didnï¿½t see anything new in the petition for rehearing that this court hadnï¿½t already considered.ï¿½
Earls said there is a major distinction between this case and the five cases, cited by the Senate, involving other U.S. Courts of Appeals. In those cases, minority voters were only able to influence the selection of candidatesï¿½not elect the candidates of their choice, she said.
In this case, the plaintiffs are making an ï¿½ability to electï¿½ claim, not an ï¿½ability to influenceï¿½ claim, Earls said. With help from a limited number of ï¿½crossover voters,ï¿½ black voters would have had the ability to elect the candidate of their choiceï¿½if their voting power hadnï¿½t been diluted by Senate mapmakers, she said.
Senate lawyers maintain that this is an ï¿½ability to influenceï¿½ case because black voters would require so many crossover votes in order to elect their candidate.