Federal Judge Advances Connecticut Prison Gerrymandering Lawsuit

May 9, 2019

A lawsuit that wants Connecticut to stop counting prisoners in voting districts where they are incarcerated will move forward. It aims to count prisoners where they call home, instead.

The practice is called prison gerrymandering. Plaintiffs say it’s unconstitutional. It dilutes the vote of a person from a place where many residents have gone to jail or prison. Plaintiffs like Justin Farmer from Hamden, who says his vote counts less and that suppresses his voice.

“That’s not a deficit to one community or another. That’s all of our problems. We’re all losing out. And the longer we’re losing this process, the longer we continue to hurt the state of Connecticut.”

Alexander Taubes works at David Rosen, one of the law firms representing the plaintiffs. He says a federal judge ruled this week that the state’s efforts to stop the case from moving forward was “…frivolous. That’s not something that a federal district judge does every day, talking about the State of Connecticut’s legal position.”

Attorney General William Tong’s office says it’s reviewing the decision and considering next steps. Taubes hopes the ruling will convince the state to change its argument and fix the practice. That’s because Governor Ned Lamont and Secretary of the State Denise Merrill have publicly supported a bill that would end prison gerrymandering.

“But their lawyers in court, the Attorney General’s office, is doing everything they can to slow the case down so it won’t be finished in time for the 2020 elections.”

Taubes says that timing is crucial. Connecticut’s bill still sits in committee. Meanwhile, New York and four other states have started to end prison gerrymandering without a lawsuit.

The plaintiffs in the case NAACP V. Merrill are represented by The Rule of Law Clinic at Yale Law School, General Counsel Bradford M. Berry of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and David Rosen and Associates in New Haven.