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New York’s top court tosses map that favored Democrats

Lower court ordered to approve new plan; June primary may be delayed

The district of GOP Rep. Lee Zeldin, who is running for governor of New York, would have favored Democrats under a map thrown out Wednesday by the state's highest court.
The district of GOP Rep. Lee Zeldin, who is running for governor of New York, would have favored Democrats under a map thrown out Wednesday by the state's highest court. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)

New York’s highest state court tossed an effort to salvage the state’s Democrat-drawn congressional map Wednesday, the latest in a series of state court decisions against partisan gerrymandering.

The decision could wipe out Democrats’ push to reduce Republican-leaning districts in the state, which lost a seat to reapportionment. New York’s congressional map “was drawn to discourage competition,” Chief Judge Janet DiFiore wrote, and violated the state’s 2014 constitutional amendment that established an Independent Redistricting Commission and banned racial and partisan gerrymandering.

DiFiore wrote the map was “substantively unconstitutional as drawn with impermissible partisan purpose,” and the court rejected an argument to let the map stand for this year’s elections. The opinion ordered the lower court to appoint a special master and select a new map “with all due haste” before the state’s primary, which may have to be delayed from June to August.

The state’s top Democrats had appealed a lower court decision finding the map violated the constitutional ban on partisan gerrymandering. The Democratically controlled legislature passed the map signed into law by Gov. Kathy Hochul after the Independent Redistricting Commission, which is advisory and has bipartisan membership, deadlocked on its first plan and did not submit a second.

Under the rejected map, President Joe Biden would have won 22 of the state’s 26 congressional districts in 2020, up from 20 of 27 under the lines that were in place then. With Republicans only five seats shy of controlling the House, experts said redistricting could help tip the balance in this fall’s elections.

Elections analyst Nathan L. Gonzales had rated races for the seats held by Republican Reps. Lee Zeldini and John Katko, neither of whom are running this year, as Likely Democratic. The seat held by GOP Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, who faces a rematch against Democratic former Rep. Max Rose, was rated a Toss-up.  

Representatives for Hochul and the other appellants, as well as the League of Women Voters of New York, and voters who challenged the map, could not be immediately reached for comment Wednesday afternoon. Paul Smith, senior vice president of the Campaign Legal Center that submitted an amicus brief against the map, praised the decision Wednesday.

“When given the opportunity, politicians from both parties engage in partisan gerrymandering to divide voters into districts that serve their political interests instead of the interests of voters. Regardless of the party in charge, gerrymandering is directly at odds with a well-functioning democracy and the New York Constitution,” Smith said in a statement.

Wednesday’s ruling is the second one this week rejecting a legislature-drawn map for political gerrymandering. On Monday, a Kansas state court judge ordered the legislature to draw a new map for unfairly favoring Republicans in the state’s four congressional districts.

State courts, such as New York’s, have stepped in to rule on partisan gerrymandering since the U.S. Supreme Court in 2019 ruled that federal courts could not consider partisan gerrymandering claims.

State courts in Maryland, Ohio and North Carolina have similarly ruled against the state legislature’s congressional maps this year. In Maryland, the Democratic legislature and Republican governor agreed on a compromise map for this decade.

Ohio’s congressional map is still in litigation, although the state Supreme Court has allowed the latest legislature-drawn map to be used for the state’s primary next week. North Carolina will use a state court-drawn congressional map for this fall’s election.

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