News Coverage on Redistricting Senate Size

Thomson Reuters

New York's 63rd Senate seat is constitutional, court says

Jessica Dye
Friday, April 13, 2012

 

NEW YORK, April 13 (Reuters) - A state judge on Friday held that New York can proceed with its plan to add a 63rd seat to the state Senate.

Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Richard Braun said that voters and Senate Democrats challenging the seat had not proven that the plan, which created a new Senate district, violated the state Constitution by illegally combining two different methods of counting residents.

"Although this court finds disturbing the legislature's use of one method for Queens and Nassau Counties and a different method for Richmond and Suffolk Counties, petitioners have not sustained their heavy burden of demonstrating beyond a reasonable doubt that the legislature has acted unconstitutionally," Braun wrote.

New York was required to redo it congressional maps to reflect population shifts identified in the 2010 census.

The underlying lawsuit was filed on Jan. 31 by voters and Senator Martin Dilan, a Democrat representing Brooklyn. They initially sued New York's Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment (LATFOR), the agency in charge of redrawing the state's Assembly and Senate districts to account for population changes.

The suit claimed that LATFOR violated Section 4 of the state Constitution by using two different methods to calculate population in its redistricting proposal and justify the addition of a 63rd Senate seat. Section 4 sets forth a formula that governs how the number of state Senate seats should be recalculated following each Census.

Depending on what boosted Republicans' political prospects in a particular area, LATFOR would use one of two methods: either adding the populations together and then rounding down, or rounding down and then adding them together, according to the lawsuit.

FAILED TO PROVE UNCONSTITUTIONAL

In 1972, the New York Court of Appeals held in Schneider v. Rockefeller that both methods were constitutionally valid.

But the plaintiffs in the Cohen case argued that LATFOR must pick one or the other.

On March 9, Braun dismissed the suit, saying that until the plan was signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, he could not rule on the merits.

The legislature passed the plan, and Cuomo signed it into law on March 15. That same day, plaintiffs refiled the action, naming Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, Speaker of the Assembly Sheldon Silver and the New York State Board of Elections as defendants.

Although the new claims were ripe for judgment, the plaintiffs did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the plan was unconstitutional, Braun ruled Friday.

An attorney for the plaintiffs did not immediately return a call for comment.

Attorneys for Skelos said they were "pleased that the Supreme Court recognized that the legislature acted within the scope of its discretion in enacting a 63-seat plan for the state Senate."

Attorneys for the other defendants did not immediately return requests for comment Friday.

The case is Cohen v. Cuomo, in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, New York County, No. 102185/12.

For the plaintiffs: Eric Hecker, Alexander Goldenberg and Julie Ehrlich of Cuti Hecker Wang.

For Cuomo: Paul Schechtman of Zuckerman Spaeder.

For Skelos: Todd Geremia, Michael Carvin of Jones Day; and David Lewis of Lewis & Fiore.

For Silver: C. Daniel Chill of Grubard Miller.

For the NY State Board of Elections: Kimberly Galvin and Robert Brehm.

 

 

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