Ruling May Change Brooklyn’s Orthodox Representation

BROOKLYN -

The difficulty activists had adding another Orthodox representative from Brooklyn to the City Council may now be eased, according to a preliminary reading of the Supreme Court’s ruling Tuesday that declared unconstitutional a key part of the Voting Rights Act.

“Great victory,” Leon Goldenberg, an activist heavily involved in last year’s effort to add a second Jewish seat to represent parts of Flatbush in the council. It was stymied primarily due to the Civil Rights Act of 1965, which later declared Brooklyn a jurisdiction with civil rights problems.

Mr. Goldenberg said he had not finished studying the ruling.

The act was primarily directed at states that used a variety of means to prevent blacks from voting. It later added counties across the country, including Brooklyn, Manhattan and the Bronx, to the list. Thus, a federal requirement for a minimum of three Brooklyn districts containing a majority of African-Americans thwarted a group of Flatbush activists from gaining approval for a Jewish-majority district following the census of 2010.

Councilman David Greenfield represents the majority of the southern Brooklyn bloc of heavily Orthodox Boro Park and Flatbush. But with more than a half million Orthodox Jews, and with only about 160,000 residents needed to set up a district, Mr. Goldenberg, working together with representatives of Agudath Israel, felt that a second Orthodox councilman was within reach.

The Voting Rights Act blocked that effort.

The action meant that any legal directive that affects voting, such as moving a polling booth a block away or approving a new district, must gain federal approval. This could sometimes take weeks, adding a layer of bureaucracy that districts resented.

“Stating the obvious,” posted Stu Loeser, a spokesman for Mayor Michael Bloomberg, “the incompetent NYC Board of Elections not having to seek DOJ approval for any polling place changes is in some ways quite helpful.”

It also meant that the districts self-censored when it came to creating new districts. For instance, it was seen from the onset that a second Orthodox councilman would be a hard sell because of the Act.

“We would not be where we are today” if the act had been declared unconstitutional prior to last year’s fight, Mr. Goldenberg said.

Jeff Wice, a redistricting attorney, told Politicker that the ruling makes lawsuits, such as protesting the city moving the mayoral runoff into October so as not to interfere with Sukkos, or a return to lever voting, unlikely to succeed

Although Congress could still pass laws to designate certain areas as prone to civil rights violations, Mr. Wice said the burden for now is on the plaintiff.

“Any New Yorker who now wants to challenge an election law would have to go through a costly and time consuming federal lawsuit where the burden is on the challenging plaintiff to invalidate the law and it is always a difficult uphill battle,” he said.