Prison Gerrymandering Suit Can Advance in Connecticut

MANHATTAN (CN) – The Second Circuit advanced a lawsuit Tuesday that challenges how Connecticut counts prisoners when it draws up legislative districts.

Joined by five members, several of whom have relatives who are incarcerated, the NAACP contends in the suit that Connecticutʹs method of counting inmates as residents of the district where their prison is located, rather than the district in which they permanently reside, violates the ʺone person, one voteʺ principle of the 14th Amendment. 

“Today’s important ruling will allow this case to be heard on the merits,” NAACP General Counsel Bradford Berry said in a statement. “We are eager to secure for Connecticut residents their constitutional right to equal representation.” 

Inmates in Connecticut are disproportionately black or Latino, and the NAACP notes that they tend to maintain permanent domiciles in urban areas of the state while serving their prison sentences in far-flung correctional centers where the population is predominantly white. 

Though most of these inmates have lost their voting rights on account of their felony convictions, the NAACP says that Connecticut has since 2011 been counting the inmates as residents of the communities where they are incarcerated. 

“We may finally have the chance to reveal the injustice of prison gerrymandering,” Scot X. Esdaile, president of the NAACP Connecticut State Conference, said. “We hope that soon the voices and votes from our communities will count the same as those from the rural districts where the prisons are located.” 

Connecticut appealed to the Second Circuit after U.S. District Judge Warren W. Eginton refused to dismiss the case in February.

In rejecting the state’s appeal, today’s unsigned ruling says that “the Eleventh Amendment does not immunize [the state] from this suit.” It also says the case is “neither frivolous nor insubstantial.” 

As with any case involving a challenge to the constitutionality of the apportionment of a statewide legislative body, the NAACP’s case will be heard by a three-judge panel on remand to the U.S. District Court in Bridgeport.

“We are evaluating and reviewing the decision,” a spokeswoman for Connecticut’s attorney general said.

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