New York State

State Supreme Court judge rules NY’s district maps unconstitutional

Justice Patrick McAllister said political bias was clear in the maps “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

A state judge effectively tossed out the newly redrawn redistricting maps.

A state judge effectively tossed out the newly redrawn redistricting maps. John Greim/Loop Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

A state judge effectively tossed out the newly redrawn redistricting maps that heavily favor Democrats in the state Senate, Assembly and Congress for this year’s midterm election cycle. 

Acting Steuben County state Supreme Court Justice Patrick McAllister on Thursday ordered the Legislature to retool the maps before an April 11 deadline, marking a victory for Republicans who cried foul as soon as the maps were approved by the state Legislature.

The state’s Democratic leaders, however, are expected to appeal the decision. That would allow candidates and local boards of election to proceed with the maps that were signed into law Feb. 3 while a higher court considers the suit. Candidates have been petitioning since March 1 to make the ballot for June 28 primaries, with most working under the assumption that the new district lines were set. Petitions are due next week – but McAllister’s ruling could result in the entire political calendar needing to be revised. 

“This is one step in the process. We always knew this case would be decided by the appellate courts. We are appealing this decision and expect this decision will be stayed as the appeal process proceeds,” state Senate spokesperson Mike Murphy told reporters shortly after the order was issued Thursday, speaking on behalf of Democratic leaders.

McAllister previously indicated the maps were unlikely to be thrown out, saying earlier this month that there was an “extremely high level of proof” needed to determine the Legislature “acted in an unconstitutional way in creating the congressional and Senate maps.” He also acknowledged the tight timeline between when the lawsuit was initially filed in February and the June primary elections. 

But Thursday’s order granted a preliminary injunction to the petitioners, deeming the maps “void and not usable” in the upcoming election cycle. “The petitioners were able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the map was enacted with political bias and thus in violation of the constitutional provision against gerrymandering under Article III Sections 4 and 5 of the Constitution,” McAllister wrote.

Despite its name, the Supreme Court is not the state’s highest court. Unlike the federal Supreme Court, the state's Supreme Court is its trial court. An appeal would head to the Appellate Division, with the final destination being the Court of Appeals, New York’s actual highest court.

The maps in question, would have given Democrats advantages in 22 of the state’s 26 congressional districts. The new state Senate map adds two new districts and gives Democrats a better position in three Republican-held districts. 

While the lawsuit only challenged the Senate and congressional maps, McAllister ordered the Assembly lines to be withdrawn as well. 

The lawsuit, filed by a group of GOP-backed voters almost immediately after the maps were approved, claims “the Democratic Party politicians who control the New York Legislature and Governor’s office brazenly enacted a congressional map that is undeniably politically gerrymandered in their party’s favor.”

If the Legislature does not approve the new maps before the April 11 deadline, the court will appoint an independent expert to establish the new district lines, the order states.