U.S. Supreme Court to Hear Arguments on Redistricting in Williamsburg

A joint friend of the court brief has been filed with the United States Supreme Court by two Jewish organizations in support of an appeal by the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg against a 1974 redistricting which the UJO contended discriminated against the Brooklyn area’s 45,000 Hasidic Jews.

The UJO, an umbrella agency representing more than 100 Williamsburg Jewish groups, had charged that new districts, approved by the State Legislature on May 29, 1974, discriminated against Jewish residents in favor of Blacks and Puerto Ricans.

In their joint brief in support of the UJO appeal, the National Jewish Commission on Law and Public Affairs (COLPA) and the American Jewish Committee charged that a racial quota concept had been introduced into the voting process by the redistricting. Both the federal District Court and the Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the redistricting. The Supreme Court has scheduled oral arguments in the case for mid-March.

Acting under constraints imposed by the U.S. Attorney General under the Federal Voting Rights Act, the Legislature set up several voting districts in Brooklyn with a 65 percent non-white and 35 percent white population to make more likely the election of the choice of non-white voters. The District Court and the Appeals Court upheld the redistricting because it was deemed to correct a “wrong” committed against non-white voters.

CLAIMS GERRYMANDERING IS UNCONSTITUTIONAL

The UJO is being represented by Nathan Lewin, a COLPA vice-president, who is acting in a private capacity, though COLPA assisted him in the district court and appeals court phases of the litigation.

Lewin argued in his brief that deliberate racial gerrymandering was unconstitutional. Even if remedial racial districting was ever proper, it was not applicable in the Williamsburg case because, he contended, there was no evidence of prior districting either intentionally or effectively abridging the rights of Blacks or Puerto Ricans to vote in the disputed areas of Brooklyn. He argued that the 1974 New York Reapportionment Law, under which the redistricting was implemented, introduced a racial quota concept into the voting process and must be nullified.

The joint brief declared the meaning of the redistricting was that, in protecting the right to vote “equal access to the electoral process is no longer enough” and that an election must be held to produce a “pre-ordained” result. Dennis Rapps, COLPA executive director, and Samuel Rabinove, AJCommittee legal director, were attorneys for their organizations in submitting the joint brief.

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