New York’s highest court tossed out both congressional and state Senate district maps on Wednesday, ruling that they were both drawn in violation of the constitution.
In a majority 4-3 decision, the state Court of Appeals ruled that the maps must be redrawn by a neutral expert, acknowledging that “it will likely be necessary to move the congressional and senate primary elections to August,” Chief Judge Janet DiFiore wrote, ordering the Supreme Court to oversee the process.
While the court ruled both maps were procedurally unconstitutional, the judges wrote that the congressional map was clearly gerrymandered “with impermissible partisan purpose.”
The decision comes after the new, bipartisan Independent Redistricting Committee, established by voters in 2014, failed to come to an agreement on the electoral maps, putting the power in the hands of the Democrat-controlled state Legislature, which approved the newly redrawn maps in February.
“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,” DiFiore wrote.
The now-voided maps would have given Democrats advantages in 22 of the state’s 26 congressional districts. The new state Senate map redistributed two more of the 63 districts to New York City, following population trends, and gave Democrats a better position in three Republican-held districts.
After Democrats released the maps, Republicans promptly filed a lawsuit arguing that the process for approving the maps was “constitutionally defective” and that the congressional map in particular was “unconstitutionally gerrymandered in favor of the majority party,” according to the decision issued Wednesday.
A State Supreme Court in Steuben County sided with the GOP-backed petitioners, declaring the Senate, Assembly and congressional maps void – a decision appealed by Gov. Kathy Hochul and Democratic legislative leaders. An appellate court, after temporarily halting the lawsuit, delivered a short-lived victory to Democrats by vacating the lower court’s determination that the state Senate and Assembly maps were unconstitutional. However, the appellate court agreed with the Supreme Court that Republicans “had met their burden of proving that the constitutional prohibition against partisan gerrymandering had been violated with respect to the 2022 congressional maps, rendering that map void and unenforceable,” Wednesday’s decision states, rehashing the lower court proceedings.
Pursuant to a “careful review of the plain language of the Constitution,” along with consideration of the 2014 reforms, DiFiore wrote that “it is evident that the legislature and the IRC deviated from the constitutionally mandated procedure.” The judges determined the Legislature also “studiously ignored events that gave rise to the 2014 amendments,” noting the previous redistricting cycle in 2012, when a federal court ordered congressional maps to be redrawn.
GOP lawmakers celebrated the ruling on Wednesday, with Rep. Lee Zeldin, who is running for governor, calling it “excellent news for the people of New York and yet another big time defeat for Kathy Hochul and her Democratic allies,” in a statement.
Democrats, in a brief statement issued via New York State Senate Majority Communications Director Mike Murphy said they “are reviewing the decision.”