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MONTANO v. SUFFOLK COUNTY LEGISLATURE

May 27, 2003

LOREN J. MONTANO, PHILIP RAMOS, LEONARD D. FILLYAW, JORDAN K. WILSON, JR. AND LUIS OLIVERIA ON BEHALF OF THEMSELVES AND ALL OTHER SIMILARLY SITUATED PERSONS, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
SUFFOLK COUNTY LEGISLATURE, COUNTY OF SUFFOLK, SUFFOLK COUNTY BOARD OF ELECTIONS, ROBERT GAFFNEY IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS COUNTY EXECUTIVE OF THE COUNTY OF SUFFOLK, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Arthur D. Spatt, United States District Judge

ORDER

As often happens, the Court finds itself confronted with a redistricting problem, where time is of the essence.

This case involves allegations that the present redistricting plan adopted by the Suffolk County Legislature (the "Legislature") violates the Voting Rights Act of 1965, 42 U.S.C. § 1973, and the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. This decision addresses three issues: (1) whether a challenge to the present redistricting plan is ripe for judicial review; (2) whether the Court should extend the dates for candidates to circulate and file petitions to qualify for the legislative primary election; and (3) whether the appointment of a Special Master is necessary to assist the Court in its determination concerning the validity of the present redistricting plan under federal law and the Constitution.

I. BACKGROUND

On March 28, 2003, the plaintiffs, who are registered voters in Suffolk County, filed a complaint naming the defendants the Suffolk County Legislature (the "Legislature"), its presiding officer Maxine Postal ("Postal"), the County of Suffolk and the Suffolk County Board of Elections (collectively, the "defendants"), seeking declaratory and injunctive relief based on the defendants' alleged failure to reapportion the Legislature following the publication of the United States Census for 2000, in violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, 42 U.S.C. § 1973.

On May 7, 2003, the plaintiffs filed an amended complaint adding claims under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and certain factual class action allegations. On that same day, the plaintiffs moved by order to show cause for a temporary restraining order directing the defendants to cease all business in Suffolk County until they adopt a redistricting plan for the Legislature, or in the alternative, for an order directing the appointment of a Special Master to recommend a proposed redistricting plan.

On May 14, 2003, the Court heard oral argument on the plaintiffs' motion. At that time, the parties noted the following deadlines in the political calendar: June 3, 2003 is the first day for candidates to gather designating petitions for the legislative primary election; July 10, 2003 is the last day for candidates to file designating petitions; the primary election is scheduled for September 9, 2003; and the general election will be held on November 4, 2003.

After hearing argument from both parties, the Court rendered an oral decision noting that the defendants have failed to timely reapportion the existing district lines of the Legislature in compliance with the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Court then issued a written order dated May 14, 2003 directing, among other things, that the Legislature hold a meeting on May 15, 2003 to consider and adopt a redistricting plan. In the written order, the Court further stated that in the event a plan was not adopted, the Court would appoint a Special Master pursuant to Rule 53 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to assist the Court in preparing a redistricting plan in conformity with the law.

On May 16, 2003, the parties again appeared before the Court. At that time, the defendants reported that on May 15, 2003, the day before, the Legislature had indeed adhered to the Court's request and adopted a redistricting plan, namely Resolution No. 402-2003 ("Resolution 402"). At this meeting, all 18 legislators were present. 10 legislators voted in favor of Resolution 402; 7 legislators voted against the resolution and 1 abstained. The defendants however noted that, before Resolution 402 can be formally enacted into law, it must be approved by the County Executive; be subjected to a possible petition within 45 days requiring a referendum; and be filed with the New York State Secretary of State.

At the May 16, 2003 session, the plaintiffs then made an oral application to enjoin the Legislature from taking action to enact Resolution 402 on the ground that it violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Constitution. In response, the Court stated that the plaintiffs must bring their motion for a preliminary injunction by order to show cause. In addition, at that time, the 7 legislators who had voted against Resolution 402 and the 1 legislator who had abstained (the "Intervenors") appeared before the Court and also asserted that the resolution violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Court responded that these legislators must bring a motion for leave to intervene, upon proper notice to all parties.

On May 19, 2003, the plaintiffs moved by order to show cause for an order:

(1) granting them leave to file a second amended complaint challenging Resolution 402, adding the County Executive as a defendant and removing Postal as a defendant; (2) declaring that Resolution 402 violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act; (3) declaring that Resolution 402 violates the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution; (4) preliminarily and permanently enjoining the defendants from calling, holding, supervising or certifying any further elections under the existing or proposed Legislative district lines for any term of office commencing January 1, 2004; (5) preliminarily and permanently enjoining the County Executive Robert Gaffney or any of his designees from executing and/or adopting Resolution 402; (6) appointing a Special Master to assist the Court in drawing district lines for the Legislature that comply with the United States Constitution and the Voting Rights Act; (7) directing the defendants to make all of their computer resources, statistical data and personnel with expertise in reapportionment available to the Court until the Court is satisfied that a valid and proper redistricting plan is in place; and (8) directing the County of Suffolk to pay for the costs associated with the appointment and work of the Special Master.

That same day, May 19, 2003, the Intervenors moved by order to show cause for leave to intervene in the action pursuant to Rule 24(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and to pursue the same relief sought by the plaintiffs in the second amended complaint.

On Thursday, May 22, 2003, the parties appeared before the Court. At that time, the Court granted the intervenors' motion to intervene as plaintiffs; granted the plaintiffs' motion for leave to file a second amended complaint; and added the New York State Board of Elections as a defendant in the action. The Court also directed the parties to submit, on or before Friday May 23, 2003 at 5 p.m., their arguments concerning three issues: (1) whether a challenge to Resolution 402 is ripe for judicial review; (2) whether the Court should extend the dates for candidates to circulate and file petitions to qualify for the legislative primary election; and (3) whether ...


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