New York’s highest court on Wednesday rejected new congressional maps that had been widely seen as favoring Democrats, largely agreeing with Republican voters who argued the district boundaries were unconstitutional.
The decision could delay the New York primary election by up to two months and is likely a hammer blow to the Democrats’ national redistricting hopes, which relied heavily on their ability to gerrymand New York State to maximize the number of seats they could win in the United States House of Representatives.
The state Court of Appeals said the Democratic-led legislature lacks the power to redraw the maps of the state’s Congress and Senate after an independent redistricting commission set up to draw up new new maps failed to reach consensus.
The justices also said lawmakers rigged congressional maps in favor of Democrats, in violation of a 2014 constitutional amendment aimed at eliminating political play in redistricting.
The Court of Appeal gave the power to draw new district maps to an expert, known as the Master of Special Court, instead of the legislature.
“Prompt judicial intervention is both necessary and appropriate to secure the people’s right to a free and fair election,” said the court’s opinion, written by Chief Justice Janet DiFiore.
The decision did not specify a deadline for adopting new maps. But the justices said they were sending the case to a lower state court, which “must pass the constitutional maps with all due haste.”
It will be “probably necessary,” Justice DiFiore wrote, to move the Congressional and State Senate primaries from June 28 to August, to allow time for redrawing the maps and for candidates and election officials to adapt their plans.
The state board of elections said it does not expect the date of the primaries to change for the other races, including governor and assembly.
The decision is a blow to Democrats in their fight to prevent Republicans from regaining control of the US House.
Due to new demographics from the 2020 census, New York is expected to lose a congressional seat in 2021. Legislature-designed maps would have given Democrats a strong majority of registered voters in 22 of the state’s 26 congressional districts. . Right now, Republicans currently hold eight of the state’s 27 seats.
Democrats hoped a redistricting map favorable to their party in New York could help offset expected losses in other states where Republicans control state government.
“While we are disappointed with the court’s decision, we remain confident of Democratic victories through the November ballot,” said Jay Jacobs, chairman of the New York Democratic Party.
Former New York Republican Rep. John Faso called it a “historic decision” and told reporters on a call Wednesday night that the ruling was a signal for future legislatures to follow the letter of the law. redistricting approved by state voters.
“It will force bipartisan cooperation and that’s what people voted for,” he said.
Under a process passed by voters in 2014, the new maps of New York’s districts were supposed to have been drawn by an independent commission. But that body, made up of an equal number of Democrats and Republicans, could not agree on a set of cards. The Democratic-controlled legislature then stepped in and created its own maps, quickly signed into law by Governor Kathy Hochul, a Democrat.
The Court of Appeals, made up of judges appointed entirely by Democratic governors, sided with Republican plaintiffs who argued the legislature circumvented the process established in 2014 reforms, including a provision in the constitution of the state prohibiting the reshuffling of districts for partisan purposes. gain.
“The legislature responded by creating and enacting maps in a non-transparent manner controlled exclusively by the dominant political party – doing exactly what it would have done if the 2014 constitutional reforms had never passed,” the judge wrote. DiFiore.
Four of the seven Court of Appeals justices agreed with the majority opinion, with a fifth agreeing that the Senate and Congressional maps were unconstitutional on procedural grounds.
Lawyers for the Democrats argued that the legislature was legally allowed to draw its own maps when the redistricting commission failed to reach a consensus. Democrats also said their maps reflected population shifts and united similar geographic and cultural communities separated by previous rounds of gerrymandering.
But the justices faulted Democrats for drawing up maps that reduced the number of competitive districts and asking the court to essentially “reverse” the 2014 reforms.
In the majority opinion, Justice DiFiore said keeping the tainted process would only encourage supporters involved in the Independent Boundary Redistribution Commission process to avoid consensus in the future as well, “thereby allowing the legislature to step in and create new cards simply by creating an impasse at any stage of the IRC process.
Two lower courts had also ruled the maps unconstitutional and gave the legislature an April 30 deadline to draw new maps or leave the task to a court-appointed expert. This deadline has now passed.
Meanwhile, candidates have already started campaigning in the new districts, though they don’t know if those districts will still exist when voting begins.
This story was reported by the Associated Press. Associated Press writer Nicholas Riccardi in Denver contributed to this report.