The highest court in the state of New York has struck down the state legislature’s prospective congressional and state senate maps.
In a 4-3 majority ruling, New York State Court of Appeals said that the maps, redrawn by the Democratic majority in the state legislature, violated the New York state constitution because they failed to follow constitutional procedure, and also violated an explicit constitutional ban on partisan gerrymandering.
“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,” Chief Judge Janet DiFiore wrote in the majority’s 32-page opinion. “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.”
DiFiore wrote that before the amendments to the state constitution were passed, district maps drawn by the state legislature repeatedly ended in stalemates and accusations of partisan gerrymandering. The 2014 reforms “were intended to introduce a new era of bipartisanship and transparency through the creation of an independent redistricting commission and the adoption of additional limitations on legislative discretion in redistricting, including explicit prohibitions on partisan and racial gerrymandering.” Under current law, the IRC must submit a set of maps to the legislature to be voted on, without amendment. If that set of maps is rejected by the legislature, the IRC must draw another one, and if that set is rejected, the legislature can amend the maps, within certain limits.
The 2022 redistricting process was the first under the new constitutional procedure, DiFiore continued. Because of population decreases, the state lost a congressional seat and the remaining 26 seats needed to be reapportioned as well. Throughout 2021, the IRC proceeded apace with its business. But in December and January, negotiations broke down along party lines and the commission was unable to reach a consensus. As a result, the IRC proposed as its first plan two sets of maps, one from each party. The legislature rejected both, requiring the IRC to submit a second plan within 15 days. The IRC told lawmakers one day before the deadline that they would not be sending a second set of maps. The Democratic majority in both legislative chambers composed and passed their own set of maps, without any consultation from the Republican minority and in violation of laws limiting the scope of legislative changes to the IRC’s maps. Governor Kathy Hochul signed those maps into law in February. Those maps gave Democrats a 22-4 advantage over Republicans, compared to a 19-8 advantage in the current map, the Associated Press reported.
Republicans sued to stop the gerrymandered maps. A judge in the Steuben County Supreme Court ruled that the maps were unconstitutional and threw them out, ordering lawmakers to produce new maps by April 11. If they failed to do so, the court would order a “special master” to draw the districts. The state appealed the decision. The state Supreme Court’s Appellate Division kept the maps for the State Assembly and Senate, but threw out the congressional map, sending the case to the Court of Appeals.
The Court of Appeals’s decision sends the case back to the state Supreme Court, and instructed the special master to adopt new maps “with all due haste.” The New York Times reported that the court recommended postponing the primary elections for Congress and state senate from June until August in order to give lawmakers time to adopt the maps.