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Davidson v. City of Cranston

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

September 21, 2016

KAREN L. DAVIDSON; DEBBIE FLITMAN; EUGENE PERRY; SYLVIA WEBER; AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION OF RHODE ISLAND, INC., Plaintiffs, Appellees,
v.
CITY OF CRANSTON, RHODE ISLAND, Defendant, Appellee.

         APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF RHODE ISLAND [Hon. Ronald R. Lagueux, U.S. District Judge]

          Normand G. Benoit, with whom David J. Pellegrino, Robert K. Taylor, and Partridge Snow & Hahn LLP were on brief, for appellant.

          Adam Lioz, with whom Brenda Wright, Dēmos, Dale Ho, Sean J. Young, American Civil Liberties Union, Lynette J. Labinger, and Roney & Labinger, LLP were on brief, for appellees.

          Christina Swarns, Sherrilyn Ifill, Janai Nelson, Leah C. Aden, Coty Montag, Juan Cartagena, Jose L. Perez, Joanna E. Cuevas Ingram, Rebecca R. Ramaswamy, Danielle C. Gray, Samantha M. Goldstein, and O'Melveny & Myers LLP on brief for NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc., LatinoJustice PRLDEF, Direct Action for Rights and Equality, and Voice of the Ex-Offender, amici curiae.

          Patrick Llewellyn, Aderson B. Francois, Yael Bromberg, and Institute for Public Representation, Georgetown University Law Center on brief for Former Directors of the U.S. Census Bureau, amici curiae.

          Before Howard, Chief Judge, Lynch and Kayatta, Circuit Judges.

          LYNCH, Circuit Judge.

         The City of Cranston appeals from an injunction, entered by the district court, forbidding the City from holding elections based on its 2012 Redistricting Plan and ordering it to prepare a new redistricting plan within thirty days. The district court held that the inclusion in the Redistricting Plan of 3, 433 inmates of the Adult Correctional Institutions ("ACI") in the population count of the City's Ward Six, the ward in which the ACI is physically located, dilutes the votes of voters in the City's other five wards in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The question presented is whether the Constitution permits Cranston to count the ACI prisoners as residents of Ward Six.

         We issued a stay to preserve the status quo ante in anticipation of the September 13, 2016 primaries and the November 8, 2016 general election. We now hold that the methodology and logic of the Supreme Court's decision in Evenwel v. Abbott, 136 S.Ct. 1120 (2016), require us to reverse the district court and instruct it to enter summary judgment in favor of the City.

         I.

         The Rhode Island Constitution specifies that state legislative districts "shall be constituted on the basis of population and . . . shall be as nearly equal in population . . . as possible." R.I. Const. art. VII, § 1; id. art. VIII, § 1. Similarly, Cranston's charter, ratified by the Rhode Island General Assembly in 1963, see 1963 R.I. Pub. Laws 550, "divide[s Cranston] into six wards in such a manner that . . . all wards shall contain as nearly as possible an equal number of inhabitants as determined by the most recent federal decennial census, " Cranston, R.I., City Charter § 2.03(b). "Each ward elects one representative to the City Council and one to the School Committee, " and all six wards collectively elect "three at-large city councilors and one at-large school committee member." Davidson v. City of Cranston, No. 14-91L, 2016 WL 3008194, at *1 (D.R.I. May 24, 2016).

         The U.S. Census "serves as a linchpin of the federal statistical system." Dep't of Commerce v. U.S. House of Representatives, 525 U.S. 316, 341 (1999) (citation omitted). Since 1790, the Census has produced its total-population counts by counting each person where he or she "usually resides, " see Act of Mar. 1, 1790, § 5, 1 Stat. 101, 103, and from 1850 to the present the Census has continually refined its "usual residence" rule for determining where to count persons. Currently, "usual residence" is defined as "the place where [persons] live and sleep most of the time." 2020 Decennial Census Residence Rule and Residence Situations, 80 Fed. Reg. 28950 (May 20, 2015).

         The 2010 Census data used by Cranston in its 2012 Redistricting Plan, the most recent such plan, included in its population count for the City 3, 433 inmates of the ACI. The ACI, "which is located on a state-operated campus, " Davidson, 2016 WL 3008194, at *2, is Rhode Island's sole state prison. Although the ACI makes "most requests for police services [to] the State Police, which maintains an office at the ACI, " "the Cranston police occasionally deliver a prospective inmate to the prison." Id. at *2. The ACI also depends on Cranston's roads and sewage system, as well as on the City's fire department for emergency services.

         The City's population in the 2010 Census was 80, 387, and each of the City's six wards includes approximately 13, 500 persons, with a "total maximum deviation among the population of the six wards [of] less than ten percent." Id. at *1. The 3, 433 ACI inmates were counted by the City as part of the 13, 642 members of Ward Six. If the inmates were not included, Ward Six would contain only 10, 209 persons, and the maximum deviation among the population of the wards would be approximately thirty-five percent.

         "[D]emographic experts retained by the parties" testified that "153 or 155 [ACI] prisoners came from Cranston at the time of the Census, " and that "[e]ighteen of those had pre-incarceration addresses located in Ward Six." Id. The plaintiffs' demographic expert also testified that "the median length of stay for those serving a sentence at the ACI is 99 days, " and that "[t]he median stay for those awaiting trial is three days." Id. at *2.

         Those inmates at the ACI not imprisoned for felonies may vote by absentee ballot in their pre-incarceration communities, provided that they meet that community's absentee-ballot requirements. The Rhode Island Constitution forbids felons to vote while incarcerated, R.I. Const. art. II, § 1, but under Rhode Island law, non-felon inmates may vote at their "fixed and established domicile, " the location of which is unaffected by their incarceration, 17 R.I. Gen. Laws § 17-1-3.1(a), (a)(2). Taking into account testimony that "approximately 37% of the [ACI] population is serving a felony sentence, " the district court estimated that only "six [or] seven inmates . . . could be eligible to vote in Ward Six." [1] Davidson, 2016 WL 3008194, at *2.

         In February 2014, four residents of Cranston and the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island filed a complaint against the City under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for declaratory and injunctive relief alleging that Cranston's 2012 Redistricting Plan violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The plaintiffs argued that the inclusion of the ACI inmates in Ward 6 "inflates the voting strength and political influence of the residents in Ward 6 and dilutes the voting strength and political influence of Plaintiffs and other persons residing outside of Ward 6, " thereby violating the equal protection principle of "one person, one vote."[2] The City filed a motion to dismiss the complaint in March 2014, which the district court denied in September 2014. Davidson v. City of Cranston, 42 F.Supp.3d 325 (D.R.I. 2014). The parties then filed cross motions for summary judgment in July and August of 2015.

         In May 2016, the district court denied the City's motion for summary judgment and granted summary judgment to the plaintiffs. It held that the City's inclusion of the ACI inmates in its Redistricting Plan violated the principle of "one person, one vote" as consistently articulated by the Supreme Court, notwithstanding its recent decision in Evenwel v. Abbott. Davidson, 2016 WL 3008194, at *3-4. Rejecting the City's argument "that Evenwel stands simply for the constitutional propriety of drawing district lines based on Census population data, " the district court instead stressed "the Supreme Court's emphasis on the conceptual basis of representational equality." Id. at *4.

         The district court concluded that "[t]he inmates at the ACI share none of the characteristics of the [historically non-voting] constituencies [such as women, children, slaves, tax-paying Indians, and non-landholding men] described by the Supreme Court" and found by the Court to deserve representation in apportionment. Id. The district court found that the inmates have no interest in Cranston's public schools, receive few services from the City, and have no contact with Cranston's elected officials. Id. The court further emphasized that the "inmates are different from other groups of non-voting residents of Cranston, " including ...


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