A New York Court of Appeals on Thursday ordered a redraw of the state’s congressional map, helping Democrats in a case that could give the party a new chance to tilt one of the nation’s most contested House battlegrounds to the left.
Wading into a long-simmering legal dispute, the Appellate Division of the state Supreme Court in Albany said the competitive, judicial districts set up for last year’s midterms were only a temporary fix.
They ordered the state’s bipartisan redistricting commission to immediately restart a process that would effectively give the Democratic-dominated State Legislature final say on the contours of New York’s 26 House seats for the rest of the decade.
“We order the IRC to begin its duties immediately,” wrote Elizabeth A. Garry, the presiding justice. the majority opinion, referring to the Independent Redistricting Commission. Two members of the five-judge panel dissented.
Republicans vowed to appeal, leaving a final decision to the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, just a year after it stopped an earlier attempt by Democrats to run the maps.
Why It Matters
The appeals court’s decision has potentially far-reaching implications.
The current district lines were drawn by a neutral court-appointed expert last spring to maximize competition. The new map served that purpose, helping Republicans flip four seats en route to taking control of the House.
If Thursday’s ruling stands, both parties believe Democrats could conceivably draw maps that pass legislative caucus while making re-election nearly impossible for incumbent Republicans like Reps. Mike Lawler and Marc Molinaro in the Hudson Valley, and Anthony D’Esposito and George Santos on Long Island. and in Queens, among others.
New Democratic seats in New York could help offset gains Republicans hope to make in North Carolina, where a conservative Supreme Court recently allowed the party to replace a more neutral map.
The legal battle over New York’s lines dates back to 2014, when voters adopted a constitutional amendment that banned gerrymandering and created a new bipartisan redistricting commission meant to minimize partisan map-making.
The first time the commission began drawing district lines last year, however, it deadlocked between equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats. When the commission did not even meet to complete its work, Democratic leaders in the legislature commandeered the process and adopted lines giving Democrats clear advantages.
Republicans sued, and the Court of Appeals ruled that Democrats not only disallowed the maps, but also violated the 2014 redistricting procedures. It stripped parliament of its map-making authority, giving it to the neutral expert.
The question before the courts now is whether those maps were meant to be temporary. Democrats filed a lawsuit last year, paid for by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in Washington, arguing that was the case, and asking the court to compel the bipartisan commission to complete its work.
Although the commission would have the first chance to draw the new maps under Thursday’s decision, both parties expected the evenly divided panel to deadlock again. That would send the final map-making authority back to Parliament — only this time with the blessing of the courts.
Republicans are trying to block that possibility. A lower court judge sided with Republicans and dismissed the lawsuit last September.
“New York Democrats are attempting a blatant partisan power grab thinly disguised as a court case,” said Jack Pandol, a spokesman for the House Republicans’ campaign arm. “Republicans will appeal to protect the will of the voters of New York, and we will fight to hold the line in the Empire State.”
The Court of Appeal is now likely to have the last word again.
The seven-judge court was skeptical of Democrats a year ago, and could view the current lawsuit as an attack on its earlier ruling. But the bench has also moved decidedly left since then, and it is now led by a liberal Chief Justice, Rowan D. Wilson, who dissented from the 2022 decision.