New York Dems Might Be Able to Draw Republicans Out of a Job

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A state appellate court ordered that New York’s congressional map be redrawn once again, handing a big but preliminary win to Democrats who want to redo last year’s contentious redistricting process.

Judges on the Albany-based court ruled 3-2 in favor of the plaintiffs in Hoffman v. New York State Independent Redistricting Commission, ordering the commission to produce a new map before the 2024 elections. The plaintiffs in Hoffman argued that it wasn’t clear if the congressional map drawn last year was meant to be in place for a decade, which is the norm, or if it was just an interim map for the 2022 election cycle.

The group also argued that the commission, which is charged with drawing the state’s maps, didn’t fulfill its constitutional obligations when it failed to agree upon a final map, causing the legislature to step in. The decision is expected to be appealed and heard by the Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court.

“The right to participate in the democratic process is the most essential right in our system of governance. The procedures governing the redistricting process, all too easily abused by those who would seek to minimize the voters’ voice and entrench themselves in the seats of power, must be guarded as jealously as the right to vote itself; in granting this petition, we return the matter to its constitutional design,” the judges wrote in their opinion.

In 2022, the commission set out to draw new legislative maps for the state following its loss of a congressional district due to the 2020 U.S. Census results. But the bipartisan panel came up with two sets of maps and couldn’t agree on a final version, prompting the heavily Democratic legislature to step in and draw their own. The lawmakers’ map, which had potential to cut New York’s Republican representation in the House by half, was signed into law by Governor Kathy Hochul, then promptly challenged in court. The case made it all the way to the Court of Appeals, which rejected the Democrats’ map as unfair gerrymandering and ordered a outside special master to draw a new one.

The special master’s map went into effect last year, and Republicans managed to flip four House seats in New York alone, a victory that helped the party retake control of the chamber by a slim margin. If the courts rule in favor of redoing the congressional map, state Democrats will be given a chance to approve a more favorable map ahead of a presidential-election year, which would have major implications for national Democrats trying to retake the House. Hakeem Jeffries, the House minority leader, said in a statement that the commission should “get to work expeditiously and present a map that fairly reflects the racial, ethnic, cultural, regional and socio-economic diversity of our great state.”

A new map could tilt several races in Dems’ direction. Many are already competitive without any intervention: The Cook Political Report currently lists the races for Congressmen Mike Lawler, Marc Molinaro, Anthony D’Esposito, and Brandon Williams’ districts listed as toss-ups. The path may also get more difficult for fabulist George Santos, already a key target for the Democrats.

John Faso, a former congressman who is assisting state Republicans in the redistricting matter, indicated that the ruling will be challenged, saying in a statement, “Onto the Court of Appeals.”

“The current districts are fair and that is why Hakeem Jeffries and Albany Democrats are seeking to change the rules of the game,” he said.

Although the Court of Appeals ruled against state Democrats’ last redistricting argument, it might be more favorable this time around. In the year since, Hochul appointed a new chief judge: Rowan Wilson, a former associate judge on the panel who dissented in the court’s ruling against the legislature’s map. And Wilson’s associate position was filled by Caitlin Halligan, the former state solicitor general who is thought to be more liberal leaning in her views. The court was previously dominated by Andrew Cuomo appointees, not all of whom were seen as aligned with progressive Democrats.

When the Court of Appeals could take on the case is unclear. Jeff Wice, a professor at New York Law School and redistricting expert, told Intelligencer that the appellate court didn’t set any specific deadline or calendar for it to act.

“The Republicans at this point will likely try to get this appeal before the Court of Appeals as quickly as they can,” he said. “The Court of Appeals does not hear cases during July and August. So it’s up to that court’s discretion as to whether they’re going to meet over the summer to hear an appeal.”

New York Dems Might Be Able to Draw Republicans Out of a Job