The top court in New York imposes new House district boundaries

The Supreme Court of New York is granting Democrats another opportunity to set congressional boundaries in 2024, clearing the way for party pickups in a state where they underperformed in 2022 and contributed to Republicans gaining control of the House.

A bipartisan panel that reached a deadlock last year was directed by the Court of Appeals to meet again and create new draft plans by the end of February, following a 4-3 decision on Tuesday.

The new maps will next be put to a vote by the state Legislature, which is controlled by Democrats. Lawmakers would be able to create their own maps if the commission were to vote against them.

Democrats praised the decision.

According to a statement from Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.), “Today’s decision is a win for democracy and particularly the people of New York.” “We are excited for the Independent Redistricting Commission to resume its work and follow the process that New York voters intended in order to create a new, equitable congressional map.”

The case now prepares the Democrats for a congressional battle in New York, where they must balance their efforts to retake the House with the growing concerns that the public is becoming aware of President Joe Biden’s reelection campaign. Despite the fact that New York is usually a blue state for presidential candidates, the GOP has been expanding its base.

In 2022, Republicans took three House seats in New York, all of which were in districts that, had they been in existence two years earlier, Biden would have won. Now, in an election year where Donald Trump is almost certainly to run at the top of the ticket, the GOP has to defend both districts, along with another open seat it won the previous year.

The state’s congressional delegation currently consists of 11 Republicans and 15 Democrats.

In 22 of the seats, the party would have had an advantage based on the original lines that the state Legislature drew last year. If the New York Democrats’ maps had stayed in effect, they probably would have gained 17 seats, even in a bad election year for them in 2022.

However, the Court of Appeals rejected those maps due to procedural issues. That occurred after the Legislature voted on its own lines and the state’s Independent Redistricting Commission produced one of only two required draft maps. This resulted in the courts drawing lines that were applied to the elections of 2022.

Since then, Democrats have maintained that procedural issues mean that new maps can be drawn for the remaining years of the decade, with the redistricting process simply continuing where it ended prior to the legal issues of last year.

Chief Judge Rowan Wilson concurred in the majority ruling he authored.

Wilson noted the commissioners’ inability to set a final meeting date for 2022 and said, “We are holding the IRC and legislature to what the Constitution demands and will do so as often as necessary to secure compliance with its mandate.”

Having stated that, we believe that the IRC members will behave in accordance with the Constitution and that no additional judicial involvement would be necessary. After all, neither we nor the IRC members may disregard our individual constitutional obligations.

Three of the seven judges on the court joined Wilson. Judge Diane Renwick, an appellate judge appointed by Wilson to the Supreme Court on a temporary basis following Judge Caitlin Halligan’s withdrawal from the case, ended up casting the deciding vote.

Even though Democrats are now likely to start drawing maps again shortly, they could not end up with total freedom to do as they choose. Republicans swiftly declared that any lines would have to withstand yet another round of court challenges.

“The Republicans in New York will not back down from their struggle for free and fair elections and against gerrymandering. In a joint statement, state party head Ed Cox and GOP representative Elise Stefanik stated that “the people of New York deserve better than this.”

Anti-gerrymandering language is also present in a 2014 constitutional change that sparked the legal disputes over the previous two years. Districts cannot be created to “discourage competition or for the purpose of favoring or disfavoring incumbents or other particular candidates or political parties,” nor may they be “as compact in form as practicable.”

Additionally, there is wording that promotes dividing “communities of interest” into lines.

However, a creative mapmaker can use the ambiguous criterion to justify any amusing-looking lines they like. Democrats, for instance, created a map last year that connected portions of Westchester County and Long Island to the Bronx, citing the fact that all of the county’s citizens were close to the Long Island Sound.

The Court of Appeals has never provided clear direction on whether to apply the anti-gerrymandering wording because the majority of last year’s decision addressed procedural issues.

Consequently, state legislators may end up being less active than some of their national counterparts would prefer because they are weary of endless legal battles.

Democrats would only need to make minor adjustments to the court’s blueprint to make districts like those that freshman Republican Representatives Brandon Williams of the Syracuse region and Mike Lawler of the Hudson Valley narrowly won in 2022 substantially more Democratic. This is true even if Democrats are cautious when drawing new boundaries.

Williams posted on X following the ruling, saying, “We all suffer when our judges ignore the law.” Politicians in Albany will now choose who will represent New York State in Congress. How unfortunate. What a source of shame. What a betrayal of our beautiful state’s citizens.

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