Democrats released their proposal for what new congressional districts should look like in New York, and Republicans are none too pleased. Despite claims by state Democratic leaders that they didn’t gerrymander, the lines they proposed would cripple what’s left of the GOP in the state, leaving them with just four seats out of 26. In hopes of preventing this, Republicans have already said they plan to sue – but the success of getting the lines overturned in court remains far from certain.
Republicans in the state were quick to condemn the redistricting plan for Congress presented by Democrats as hyperpartisan and illegal. State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins previously said that lawmakers would draw “rational and reasonable” maps, but the right says that’s hardly what happened. “There's no cutesiness about these lines whatsoever; even by partisan standards they're a greedy reach,” GOP consultant William O’Reilly wrote in an email to City & State. “The maps were nakedly drawn to benefit Democrats at the expense of Republicans… but in doing so, Democrats are trading away any moral high ground they may have established in the minds of voters.”
More than just Republican sway in New York, the new lines will also influence the balance of power in the House of Representatives in what will be a crucial midterm election for Democrats. Republicans are looking to take back control of both chambers of Congress and capitalize on President Joe Biden’s low approval ratings. “These maps are the most brazen and outrageous attempt at rigging the election to keep Nancy Pelosi as Speaker,” state GOP Chair Nick Langworthy said in a statement posted to Twitter. When lawmakers approve the new maps, the House can rely on three new Democrats from the state to shore up the party’s control.
Although constitutional challenges to redistricting rarely hold up in court, New York has new standards to prevent gerrymandering in its state constitution that may pose trouble for Democrats when they make their case. “I think it’s pretty clearly a partisan gerrymander,” said former GOP Rep. John Faso, who is also an attorney. “And again… these provisions are new, they’ve never been interpreted by a New York court, so I think there’s a good chance that a… challenge could be successful.” Faso pointed to other states where the courts have recently overturned district lines based on violations of state constitutions rather than the federal Constitution.
But the possibility still remains slim as partisan gerrymandering remains difficult to prove as a whole, and state Senate Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris told City & State that he’s confident a judge will deem the districts constitutional. And Jeffrey Wice, an attorney and redistricting expert, pointed out that a state judge has not overturned legislatively approved maps in New York in decades. “People are talking about reviewing their options, and as a political leader, you'd have to say that, but there’s very little at this point, there's very little substance to that,” Wice said. He added that the new standards probably won’t increase Republicans’ chance of success in court.
In the meantime, the new lines have already changed the political calculus for some Republicans in the state. Rep. Claudia Tenney decided she would seek reelection in the proposed 23rd District, one of just a handful of safe GOP seats left, rather than try her luck running against Democratic Rep. Antonio Delgado, whose district she would technically find herself in under the plan. Much of the new district covers areas currently represented by the retiring GOP Rep. Tom Reed. Rep. Chris Jacobs will also reportedly run for the new 24th District, which stretches from Western New York to the North Country, but technically excludes the town he currently lives in. Under federal law, members of congress do not need to live in the district they represent so long as they live in the state.
All in all, Republicans’ rhetoric is heated, but the likelihood that they’ll still come out as the big losers this cycle in New York remains a cold reality.
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