By Josefa Velasquez and Rachel Holliday Smith, THE CITY
The 4-3 redistricting decision mandates new boundaries be drawn with help of a “special master” and implies a new primary election should be scheduled in August.
New York State’s highest court has rejected two sets of political maps drawn by the legislature earlier this year, ordering new boundaries be drawn for the U.S. House of Representatives and State Senate.
In a 4-3 decision, the New York Court of Appeals ordered that a lower court in Steuben County appoint a “special master” with the help of a “neutral expert” to help draw new lines.
The panel of judges also advised New York should reschedule its primary election from June 28 to August, throwing the current 2022 political calendar into disarray — and potentially lose Democrats a hoped-for edge in maintaining a majority in Congress.
In the Wednesday decision, Chief Judge Janet DiFiore wrote the Court of Appeals is “confident that, in consultation with the Board of Elections” a lower court “can swiftly develop a schedule to facilitate an August primary election, allowing time for the adoption of new constitutional maps.”
The court’s decision kept state Assembly lines drawn by the Democrat-controlled legislature intact, but gave a win to a Republican-backed legal challenge on the Senate and congressional lines.
The court said the legislature’s procedure in drawing up both maps was unconstitutional, and that the congressional maps were “drawn with impermissible partisan purpose,” DiFiore wrote.
John Conklin, director of public information at the State Board of Elections, said in a statement that the BOE is reviewing Wednesday’s court decision and is ready to assist “in any way we are called upon” to develop a new political calendar for the 2022 election season.
Conklin said the BOE expects they will prepare for an August primary for the state Senate and Congressional seats only.
“We do not foresee the June 28th primary changing for our statewide offices, the State Assembly, Judicial Delegates and Alternates and any local offices that are scheduled to be on the primary ballot,” he said.
There’s still a chance New York could hold just one primary, rather than splitting them between June and August — but only if Albany lawmakers pass a bill to do so, a source told THE CITY. Legal challenges are expected for the Assembly lines, according to Albany political observers.
A lower court that had ruled on the redistricting case, the Supreme Court in Steuben County, already appointed electoral expert Jonathan Cervas as special master to redraw the state’s maps.
Mike Murphy, spokesperson for Democrats who control the State Senate, said in a statement, “We disagree with the Court of Appeals decision and believe in the constitutionality of the Congressional and state legislative maps passed earlier this year. The State Senate maps in particular corrected an egregious partisan gerrymander and have not been overturned on the merits by any court. We will make our case to the special master appointed by the court.”
Meanwhile Rep. Lee Zeldin, a Long Island Republican running for governor, lauded the court’s decision, calling the congressional and State Senate lines drawn by the Democratic-led Legislature and signed into law by the Democratic governor “hyper-partisan” and “gerrymandered.”
“This is excellent news for the people of New York and yet another big time defeat for Kathy Hochul and her Democrat allies,” Zeldin said in a statement.
The governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The head of the state Democratic Party, Jay Jacobs, issued a statement: “While certain district lines may change, what does not change is our Party’s record of results which contrasts clearly with the Republican Party’s radical agenda to drag this state backward. New Yorkers always choose to move forward.”
Under the Democratic-drawn lines, New York City was slated to get more representation in the State Senate, shifting two out of the 63 seats into the five boroughs, boosting the voting power of Asian and Hispanic New Yorkers in Brooklyn and Queens, respectively.
But plans to add more seats in the city are up in the air, with the Court of Appeals directing that an independent court-appointed official designate new district boundary lines.
The decision follows the collapse of a process approved by voters in 2014, led by the so-called Independent Redistricting Commission whose 10 members were mostly appointed by legislative leaders from both parties.
In its first attempt to draw lines following the 2020 Census, the commission members failed to reach a consensus over what district boundaries to present to the Legislature for their consideration — instead putting forward two sets of competing maps that broke along party lines.
The impasse allowed the Democratic-dominated Legislature to take over the process, under the constitutional amendment approved via ballot referendum. It was those lines that the Court of Appeals invalidated — though districts for Assembly will remain as approved.
In New York City, one of the congressional districts would have joined parts of liberal Park Slope with heavily Republican Staten Island — widely seen as an attempt to get a Democrat into the seat currently held by Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-Staten Island/Brooklyn).
The decision could have wide-ranging effects outside of New York. Democrats hold a thin margin in Congress and are retiring in droves ahead of what’s expected to be a bruising loss in November.
Hochul pledged to help Democrats expand their majority through the once-a-decade redistricting process when she assumed the governorship in August following the resignation of Andrew Cuomo over allegations of sexual harassment.
“I have a responsibility to lead this party, as well as the government,” the Buffalo native told the New York Times that month. “I’m going to be doing whatever I can to let people know that the values of the Democratic Party today are part of who I am, fighting for people that just had a tough blow dealt to them in life.”
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