Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Court Report
By Richard Blassberg

United States Attorney’s Office Submits Post-Trial Memorandum Of Law In Port Chester Voter Rights Case
United States Federal District Court, White Plains
Judge Stephen C. Robinson Presiding

Last week Assistant United States Attorney David J. Kennedy, on behalf of United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Michael J. Garcia, filed a post-trial memorandum of law in the matter of United States Of America and Cesar Ruiz v. Village of Port Chester. The 78-page document was submitted to encourage the Court to render a decision, based upon the evidence produced at trial, that will compel the Village of Port Chester to dispense with its long-standing At-Large Election System, and adopt a District Plan.

The essential thrust of the government’s argument is that the present system violates the Voting Rights Act of 1965 as amended, 42 U.S.C.
Section 1973. The Government opens its argument with Census figures from 2000, establishing that more than 46% of the Village’s population was Hispanic, and that, as of one year ago, the Hispanic “CVAP” (citizens of voting age) population was 21.9%, clearly a substantial portion of Port Chester’s population who have never succeeded in electing an Hispanic to public office. The memorandum
goes on to point out that the Hispanic population is cohesive, but that, “their preferred candidates are usually defeated by White Bloc Voting.”

Attacking the Village’s at-large system directly, the memorandum declares that “Under the totality of the circumstances,” it violates the Voting Rights Act under seven different theories: The Government claims, firstly, that there is a history of official discrimination in Westchester County, including the Village of Port Chester. It cites historic English literacy tests that had the effect of denying hundreds of thousands of Spanish-speak-ing New Yorkers the right to vote as far back as 1946.

Secondly, Attorney Kennedy declares that voting in Port Chester has traditionally been polarized by race and ethnicity, pointing out expert witness testimony of Dr. Hadley, recognized in the field of Voting Patterns and Analysis, that there was “significant polarization” in those village election contests that were polarized. Additionally, Kennedy points out that the United States Supreme Court has held that
staggering the terms of trustees as the Village does, tends to enhance the discriminatory impact of at large voting systems.

Kennedy goes on to argue that the method by which candidates for Village office are selected, the slating process, is exclusionary, and “compromises the ability of Hispanic voters to elect their candidates of choice.” He cites the fact that Hispanics “bear the burden of discrimination in education, employment, and health,” as a further hindrance to their ability to engage and participate in the electoral process. He declares that elections in the Village of Port Chester in the recent past “have involved racial and ethnic appeals.”

And, finally, he points to the fact that no Hispanic individual has ever been elected to any position in Port Chester, and only one has been
elected county-wide to a jurisdiction encompassing the Village, Family Court Judge Nilda Morales Horowitz, as further evidence of voter discrimination under the present system.

In conclusion Mr. Kennedy calls upon the Court to order the Village of Port Chester to abandon its present at-large election system, and
adopt a district plan.

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