Written by Karen Gellender Friday, 09 September 2011 00:00
With a unanimous 7-0 vote, the several monthlong saga of potentially redistricting Nassau County in time for the November elections, as proposed by the Republican majority that controls the county legislature, came to an end at the New York State Court of Appeals. The court, composed of four Republicans and three Democrats, overruled the Second Judicial Department Appellate Panel’s Aug. 11 decision (3-2), which had upheld the Republican-drawn plan for new legislative districts.
The full text of the Court of Appeals ruling enumerated that the court agreed with Democratic legislators that section 112 of the County Charter – the linchpin to the Republican redistricting plan’s alleged legitimacy – could not legally be adhered to without heeding the latter sections of the charter as well.
The court reiterated what opponents of the redistricting plan have been saying since this spring: that the charter’s explanation of the redistricting process calls for bi-partisan and public input, regardless of how one section of the charter may be interpreted in isolation.
“The conflicting provisions of sections 112 and 113 can be reconciled only if section 112 is interpreted to provide for new metes and bounds descriptions as the initial step of an integrated process that includes consideration of the recommendations of a temporary commission with public input (see Nassau County Charter S 113), and culminates in the adoption of a redistricting plan ‘no later than eight months before [the] general election’ (Nassau County Charter S 114),” said the Court of Appeals.
The court ruling went on to say that interpreting the three sections as part of one overall plan “results in an orderly, deliberative process and avoids the prospect of redrawing district lines in two consecutive general elections.”
While this ruling means that new district lines will not be used in the upcoming elections, redistricting still isn’t too far off: an 11-member, bi-partisan commission will be formed to advise the district reapportionment process in 2013, as per section 113 of the charter.
In a statement, Nassau County Democratic Committee Chairman Jay Jacobs called the redistricting effort “an extraordinary waste of time, energy and the taxpayer’s precious resources,” and went on to say that this Republican gambit could backfire on the party come election time.
“The hypocrisy of trying to remedy what the Republicans felt was voter disparity in current districts by moving more than 540,000 citizens while dividing towns and communities was not lost on the Court of Appeals. Let’s hope that it is not lost on the voters this November,” said Jacobs.
However, Presiding Officer Peter J. Schmitt (R. Massapequa) had a different interpretation. “I am pleased that a definitive decision has been rendered by the court,” said Schmitt. “We have always maintained that there were conflicts in the County Charter by having two conflicting processes. The Court upheld that we followed the guidelines correctly and ruled that the actual redistricting should be used in 2013. This puts an end to the inequities in the County Charter and we can move ahead to other matters.”