NY House Districts Illegally Favor Democrats, Appeals Court Rules

A New York appeals court ruled on Thursday that new congressional districts drawn by Democrats violated the state’s ban on partisan gerrymandering, partially upholding a lower court ruling that would bar the state from using the lines in the critical mid-term elections mandate this year.

A split five-judge panel in Rochester says Democratic legislative leaders drew the new map of the House ‘to discourage competition and favor Democrats’, knowingly ignoring the wishes of voters who recently approved a constitutional amendment banning the practice. .

“We are satisfied that the petitioners have established beyond a reasonable doubt that the Legislature acted with partisan intent,” a three-judge majority wrote in its opinion. Two judges dissented.

Governor Kathy Hochul and top legislative leaders are expected to immediately appeal the decision to the state’s highest court, the New York Court of Appeals. The judges there, all of whom were appointed by Democratic governors, have indicated they could deliver a final verdict as early as next week.

The result in New York will have important implications in the broader fight for control of the House of Representatives. National Democratic leaders are counting on the maps their party has drawn in New York to help offset Republican gains.

Without them, Democrats risk exiting this year’s redistricting round after being beaten by Republicans for the second straight decade. Republican gains were poised to grow further after Florida lawmakers this week approved a map drawn by Gov. Ron DeSantis that would create four new Republican-friendly seats.

The ruling was the second straight setback for Democratic mapmakers in New York, and this time it was made by an appeals court seen as generally favorable to the party.

“Like other state courts across the country, New York courts do not find the question of whether a card is a partisan gerrymander particularly difficult to decide,” said Michael Li, senior counsel for the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. . “It’s very difficult to defend a map like New York, and ultimately if it gets stuck like a duck, it’s probably a duck.”

Still, Li added, Thursday’s decision was only the second of three acts in New York’s redistricting legal drama.

New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division justices on Thursday ordered the Democratic-led legislature to quickly revamp the map by April 30 or leave the task to a court-appointed neutral expert. The judges remained largely silent on another key issue at stake: whether some of the primaries scheduled for June should be postponed until August to accommodate new districts.

The congressional lines in question, passed by Democratic supermajorities in the Legislative Assembly in February, would give Democrats a clear advantage in 22 of the state’s 26 congressional districts by moving voters in favor of their party into redesigned seats in Long Island and Staten Island and in central New York, and crowd Republicans into fewer districts. Republicans currently hold eight districts on a map that was drawn by a court-appointed special master in 2012.

Heads of state came out with good news of the latest decision. The panel rejected more sweeping parts of the ruling by lower court judge Patrick F. McAllister of Steuben County, who ruled lawmakers lacked the power to draw maps after the new redistricting commission New York failed to agree on a plan. for the state.

As a result, the appeals court’s decision reinstated the Senate and State Assembly maps that Judge McAllister had rejected.

Mike Murphy, a spokesman for the Senate Democrats, said they were “pleased” the appeals court upheld the Legislature’s right to draw the maps this year and predicted the top court would restore also Congress Cards.

“We always knew this case would end up in the Court of Appeals and we look forward to a hearing on our appeal to enforce the Congressional map as well,” he said.

John Faso, a spokesman for Republican-backed voters challenging the maps, said they would file their own appeal in an attempt to remove the state’s legislative maps. But he called Thursday’s decision a “big win”.

The larger legal dispute revolves around two interrelated issues: whether the mapping process properly followed procedures set out in a 2014 amendment to the state Constitution, and whether the maps themselves violated the ban on drawing districts for partisan purposes.

Procedural changes made in 2014 sought to take the line-drawing process out of the hands of politicians by creating an outside commission to solicit public input and forge a bipartisan proposal for the House, State Senate, and Districts. the Assembly. If the commission had reached an agreement, the role of the legislature would have been to ratify the maps.

But the commission was widely seen as flawed from the start. Democratic and Republican leaders nominated an equal number of members, and when it came time to recommend maps to lawmakers in January, the panel stuck to party lines, sending separate proposals to Albany.

After the legislature rejected both, the commission chose not to exercise its statutory right to take another photo on new maps. At this point, the Democrats who control the Senate and Assembly were quick to draft, present and pass their own maps.

During oral argument on Wednesday, an attorney for the Republican challengers argued that the Legislative Assembly had no right to proceed until the commission submitted a second set of maps for review, and that the maps that they had passed for Congress and the state Senate were illegally gerrymander under new constitutional rules.

The language at issue in the state Constitution states that precincts “shall not be drawn to discourage competition” or for the purpose of favoring or harming any particular candidate or political party.

“In 2014, the people of New York made it clear that they wanted the constant gerrymandering of the legislature to end every decade,” said Misha Tseytlin, the Republican attorney. “Yet in the very first election cycle governed by the 2014 Amendment, two of New York’s branches of government, the executive branch and the legislative branch, engaged in blatant and embarrassing gerrymandering on a national level.”

Lawyers for the Democratic heads of state vehemently denied the charge, arguing that they were within their rights to draw the maps and did so fairly.

Alice Goldman Reiter, an attorney for the Senate Democrats, took particular issue with Republican computer simulations that were used to claim the maps were aggressively skewed in favor of the Democrats. She said the simulations failed to account for other constitutional requirements that influenced mappers, such as the need to preserve communities of interest in various enclaves like Brooklyn.

“No court has ever found partisan intent beyond a reasonable doubt based exclusively on computer simulations, and absolutely those simulations should not be the first,” she said.

On Thursday, the majority of the judges found the simulations to be credible. They also cited the partisan mapping process — Democratic lawmakers did not consult their Republican counterparts when crafting the lines for Congress — and a commonsense reading of the new lines to argue their conclusion.

The order was signed by Justices Stephen K. Lindley, a Democratic appointee; and John V. Centra and John M. Curran, both Republican nominees.

Two other justices, both appointed by Democrats, disagreed. In a written dissent, the justices, Gerald J. Whalen and Joanne M. Winslow, said they found the computer models to be flawed and that the majority were wrong to guess the lawmakers’ intentions simply because they had embarked on a partisan process.

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