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New York: Redistricting Drama Rises Toward Crescendo

The disjointed, perpetually deadlocked, rumor-filled, agita-inducing drama of New York Congressional redistricting moves into its final act today, with the Legislature expected to submit proposed lines to a judge by midnight and a final map approved within less than a month.

Magistrate Judge Roanne L. Mann has ordered all the parties involved in a redistricting lawsuit, which include state Assembly and Senate Democrats and Republicans, to submit their proposed Congressional plans to the court by today, if they are submitting plans at all. With control of the Legislature split, the main plans are expected to be submitted by Democrats from the Assembly and Republicans in the Senate. The opposing sides reportedly remained deadlocked this morning.

In redistricting cases, judges usually appoint a special master to draw new maps — often a retired judge or a redistricting expert. In this case, the three-judge federal panel looking at the case appointed a sitting magistrate as the special master, giving Mann broader powers than a normal special master.

Mann will hold a hearing on the submissions — along with suggestions from the public — on March 5.  In consultation with an outside expert, professor Nathaniel Persily of Columbia University, Mann will make a recommendation on a map to a three-judge panel by March 12. The judges will hold a hearing on the lines on March 15 and are expected to issue a decision soon thereafter.

Candidate petitioning begins March 20, which gives potential candidates little time to determine in which district they will run.

The primary is scheduled for June 26.

“The Legislature has failed to come up with any Congressional maps in the 11 months since the Census data came out,” said Daniel Burstein, an associate at Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP, which is representing plaintiffs who are asking the court to draw a map. “It’s very important for the court to step in to avoid electoral chaos.”

In an order on Monday that empowered Mann to draw a map, the three-judge panel set out the four standards for the map. It has to divide the state into 27 Congressional districts; the districts have to be “compact, contiguous, respect political subdivisions, and preserve communities of interests;” and it has to comply with the Voting Rights Act.

Notably absent: incumbency. Mann, however, is allowed to “consider other factors and proposals submitted by the parties, which, in the magistrate judge’s view, are reasonable and comport with the Constitution and applicable federal and state law,” the judges wrote.

“Usually when a court is drawing a plan, it looks to the last valid plan enacted as a benchmark, but when you’re losing two districts,” that doesn’t work, said an attorney involved with Empire State redistricting litigation. New York lost two districts in reapportionment. “The court seems to be looking at the Common Cause map as the gold standard — which doesn’t take incumbents into account,” the lawyer said, referring to a nonpartisan plan released earlier.

One Democratic Capitol Hill aide said the Common Cause map was mostly solid, but it had some flaws. “They put [Reps. Charlie] Rangel and [José] Serrano in the same district and the courts aren’t going to go for that,” the aide said, referring to two longtime Democratic Members of the New York delegation. Both men represent majority-minority districts as well.

The aide thought the quick movement in the judicial realm might spark final movement from the Legislature.

“It is like a fire under the Legislature to actually start getting stuff done,” the aide said. It remains unclear how any movement on maps from the Legislature will affect the judges’ decisions.

Whatever happens, there will be a Congressional map for the Empire State — and soon.

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