ACLU Files Brief in Rhode Island Senate Redistricting Appeal

November 13, 2002 12:00 am

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PROVIDENCE, RI — The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island today urged a federal appeals court to overturn a lower court decision to dismiss a lawsuit alleging that black voting power in Providence was improperly diluted by recently redrawn Senate district lines.

In a friend of the court brief filed with the United States Court of Appeals in Boston, the ACLU of Rhode Island said that U.S. District Court Judge Ernest Torres used an improper legal standard when he ruled in September that a racial group that claims the ability to “influence the election” of candidates — but whose members constitute less than a majority of the population in a proposed voting district — cannot bring an action under the federal Voting Rights Act.

“The historic Voting Rights Act was designed to address not only redistricting plans where racial minorities are deprived of the ability to constitute a voting majority in a district, but also plans that deny smaller groups of minorities the possibility of electing the candidate of their choice with the assistance of cross-over votes,” said Steven Brown, Executive Director of the ACLU of Rhode Island.

The Urban League of Rhode Island, the local branch of the NAACP and others brought the lawsuit.

According to the ACLU’s brief, the plaintiffs in the case say that the redistricting plan reduces the number of African Americans in the new Second Senate District so severely that they no longer have enough voting power to reach out to other voters and build coalitions to elect representatives of their choice. The ACLU firmly believes that if that can be demonstrated at trial, it should be deemed a violation of the Voting Rights Act.

“The plaintiffs in this lawsuit deserve the opportunity to present evidence and make their case,” Brown said. “The court’s early dismissal of the lawsuit has inappropriately prevented the plaintiffs from trying to do that.”

The friend of the court brief also notes that the U.S. Supreme Court has never ruled on this precise issue, but argues that the Voting Rights Act’s “protection of minorities’ opportunities to elect their chosen candidates” includes the opportunity “to band together with others to influence the outcome of the election.”

The ACLU’s brief can be found at: /node/35079

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