NY Court of Appeals rejects redistricting maps 'drawn with an unconstitutional partisan intent'

The NY Times calls it a “stinging defeat” for New York Democrats who gerrymandered the state by explicitly disregarding a law passed to prevent such behavior.

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In a sweeping 32-page ruling, a divided New York State Court of Appeals chided Democrats for defying the will of voters who in 2014 adopted constitutional reforms, including a new outside commission, to curb political influence in the redistricting process. The judges additionally found that the congressional districts drawn by Democrats had violated an explicit state ban on partisan gerrymandering.

The verdict, which is not subject to appeal, delivered a stinging defeat to Democrats in Albany and in Washington and cast this year’s election cycle into deep uncertainty. To accommodate the drawing of new districts, the Court of Appeals indicated that party primaries for the congressional and State Senate districts would have to be postponed from June until August.

In the decision the Court’s Chief Justice spelled out that this was clearly partisanship run amok. [emphasis added]

In 2014, the People of the State of New York amended the State Constitution to adopt historic reforms of the redistricting process by requiring, in a carefully structured process, the creation of electoral maps by an Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC) and by declaring unconstitutional certain undemocratic practices such as partisan and racial gerrymandering. No one disputes that this year, during the first redistricting cycle to follow adoption of the 2014 amendments, the IRC and the legislature failed to follow the procedure commanded by the State Constitution. A stalemate within the IRC resulted in a breakdown in the mandatory process for submission of electoral maps to the legislature. The legislature responded by creating and enacting maps in a nontransparent manner controlled exclusively by the dominant political party — doing exactly what they would have done had the 2014 constitutional reforms never been passed. On these appeals, the primary questions before us are whether this failure to follow the prescribed constitutional procedure warrants invalidation of the legislature’s congressional and state senate maps and whether there is record support for the determination of both courts below that the district lines for congressional races were drawn with an unconstitutional partisan intent. We answer both questions in the affirmative and therefore declare the congressional and senate maps void. As a result, judicial oversight is required to facilitate the expeditious creation of constitutionally conforming maps for use in the 2022 election and to safeguard the constitutionally protected right of New Yorkers to a fair election.

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As described in that opening paragraph, the decision really focuses on two questions. Did Democrats violate the 2014 amendments to the State Constitution and were the maps that resulted from the violation partisan gerrymandering. Here’s a bit of the decision addressing that second question:

Here, at the conclusion of the non-jury trial, Supreme Court — based on the partisan process, the map enacted by the legislature itself, and the expert testimony proffered by petitioners — found by “clear evidence and beyond a reasonable doubt that the congressional map was unconstitutionally drawn with political bias” to “significantly reduce[]” the number of competitive districts. The Appellate Division affirmed, similarly drawing an inference of invidious partisan purpose based on “evidence of the largely one party process used to enact the 2022 congressional map, a comparison of the 2022 congressional map to the 2012 congressional map, and the expert opinion and supporting analysis of Sean P. Trende,” finding that “the 2022 congressional map was drawn to discourage competition and favor democrats”

This leaves New York state in the awkward position of having no constitutionally approved district lines for 2022 elections that have already started. The State argued the unconstitutional lines should be used anyway simply because it was too late to do change them. The Appeals Court said no. [emphasis added]

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The parties dispute the proper remedy for these constitutional violations, with the State respondents arguing no remedy should be ordered for the 2022 election cycle because the election process for this year is already underway. In other words, the State respondents urge that the 2022 congressional and senate elections be conducted using the unconstitutional maps, deferring any remedy for a future election. We reject this invitation to subject the People of this state to an election conducted pursuant to an unconstitutional reapportionment…

We are cognizant of the logistical difficulties involved in preparing for and executing an election — and appreciate that rescheduling a primary election impacts administrative officials, candidates for public office, and the voters themselves. Like the courts below, however, we are not convinced that we have no choice but to allow the 2022 primary election to proceed on unconstitutionally enacted and gerrymandered maps. With judicial supervision and the support of a neutral expert designated a special master, there is sufficient time for the adoption of new district lines.

So that’s where we’re at. The decision has been taken out of the hands of partisan Democrats who created unconstitutional maps and will now be given over to a special master. The result will likely be more competitive districts and that’s obviously bad news for House Democrats:

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National Democrats had been counting on the maps that the State Legislature approved in February to pick up as many as three new seats this fall and offset redistricting gains by Republicans in states they control. With Democratic gains likely to be erased in New York, Republicans are on track to make modest gains nationally, easing their path to retaking control of the House of Representatives this fall.

Dave Wasserman of Cook Political Report offered this take.

It seems no matter what they try to do, 2022 is just not working out well for Democrats. What a shame.

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David Strom 6:40 PM | April 18, 2024
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