New York State

Did the court’s draft maps sufficiently preserve communities of interest?

Some legislators and groups called the new districts unconstitutional in submitted testimony. It’s unclear how their feedback will affect the final lines.

Many advocates and groups submitted testimony this week on the court's draft maps.

Many advocates and groups submitted testimony this week on the court's draft maps. Mel Longhurst/VW Pics/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

When the court-appointed redistricting expert released his draft lines on Monday, he threw New York’s political world into chaos. Newly proposed districts for both Congress and the state Senate offered dramatic changes to the state’s political playing field, pitting a large number of incumbents against each other and drawing many other incumbents out of their current districts. Various politicians and advocacy groups also expressed dissatisfaction over the way lines were drawn, noting various ways that communities of interest would be split up.

Since the new lines were published, New Yorkers could submit testimony to the court about what they did and did not like about the proposed maps. Along with many average voters who wrote the judge and the redistricting expert, several high-profile people and groups weighed in as well, including state legislative Democrats, Common Cause New York and the Unity Map Coalition.

Attorneys for the state Senate and Assembly Democratic majorities argued in their letter that the proposed congressional lines unfairly disadvantaged incumbents. Under state law, new districts should not advantage or disadvantage any incumbent or candidate. As 12 of the state’s soon-to-be 26 members of Congress would be paired up against each other, with additional members who were drawn out of their current districts, the letter argued that the maps unfairly disfavored incumbents and therefore must take into consideration where they live to make the lines more fair. In a separate letter, attorneys for the legislative leaders called state Senate Districts 17 and 26 “plainly unconstitutional” while also taking issue with the Senate district lines for the Bronx and Buffalo.

A letter from the state Senate Democrats also argued that to redraw the congressional lines for the express purpose of making the new map more pro-Republican under the guise of partisan fairness would violate the state constitution.

Common Cause New York offered strong language as well, calling both the state Senate and congressional maps “fatally defective” for failing to apply the hierarchy of redistricting criteria set out in the state constitution. Attorneys for the good-government group wrote to the court that the proposed lines appeared to focus on mathematical compactness and reducing county and city splits, but did so at the cost of maintaining minority representation. Common Cause said the maps “eliminate multiple districts where black, Latinx and Asian-American voters previously constituted a majority or significant plurality (of voters).”

Echoing those sentiments, the Unity Map Coalition – a group made up of LatinoJustice PRLDEF, Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, and the Center for Law and Social Justice at Medgar Evers College – wrote to the court that the redistricting expert created maps “without much, if any, regard to existing neighborhoods and communities of interest.” It went on to lay out a number of specific issues with both the state Senate and congressional maps in New York City.

The court is expected to approve the final maps on Friday. Whether the testimony it received since the release of the drafts will have any significant impact on what those lines will look like remains unknown.

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