The redistricting case before the state Court of Appeals has not...

The redistricting case before the state Court of Appeals has not only statewide, but national implications. Credit: AP / Hans Pennink

ALBANY — New York’s top court could hand down a decision as soon as Tuesday in a case centering on whether to redraw the state’s congressional districts.

It’s a case that has not only statewide, but national implications, given the narrow political divide in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Democrats are asking the state Court of Appeals to order the process to be redone. In a lawsuit, they argue that congressional lines drawn by a court-appointed “special master” in 2022 were a quick fix to put lines in place before the congressional primaries.

They contend those lines aren’t in accordance with state law that mandates lines be drawn by the state’s redistricting commission and the State Legislature, which is dominated by Democrats.

Republicans say that Democrats shouldn’t get a “do-over” and that redistricting is a once-a-decade process.

The Court of Appeals heard oral arguments last month — appearing divided on the matter. It is scheduled to issue decisions on an array of cases this week — the redistricting case is likely to be one of them.

The outcome will set the stage for the 2024 elections here and it could impact the balance of power in the House, where Republicans hold an eight-seat advantage.

“If the Democrats are successful in getting the map redrawn, there’s a chance the Republican margin in the House could be eaten up right here in New York,” said Jim Twombly, a retired Elmira College political scientist.

Notably, New York’s midlevel Appellate Division earlier this year agreed with Democrats on the process and said maps should be redrawn. For Republicans to prevail, the Court of Appeals would have to overturn the appellate division.

Redistricting is typically a once-a-decade process, completed after the most recent U.S. census. In New York, the Democratic-led legislature approved a map in early 2022 that could have given the party a chance to pick up as many as six seats in the state. But lower courts — and, eventually, the Court of Appeals — declared the districts illegally gerrymandered and handed the task to a special master.

Instead of Democrats gaining six seats, Republicans gained four — including two on Long Island — helping the GOP take the House in 2022. The GOP holds 11 of New York’s 26 seats under the special master’s map.

If Republicans win the ongoing lawsuit, Twombly said Democrats will look back with regret at a huge, missed opportunity to control and use the redistricting process to their advantage, as parties have done in states.

“If they hadn’t been so forceful in their attempt to maximize seats, Republicans might not have brought their lawsuit (in '22) or might not have won,” Twombly said.

At minimum, a new map would give Democrats better odds of winning swing seats on Long Island and in the Hudson Valley. Better odds for a party don’t always guarantee victories, said Lawrence Levy, dean of suburban studies at Hofstra University. “What we saw in the '22 races is if one party is much stronger on messaging and organization, it make up for whatever the courts may do,” Levy said, referring to big Republican victories on Long Island. The party also won most of the Island’s high-profile races this year.

Still, what happens with the lawsuit will be of interest nationally, he added. “New York hasn’t really mattered in national elections,” he said. “It’s really great that a deep blue state can have a major influence on national politics.”

Another important factor is the Court of Appeals has changed since last year’s 4-3 decision on redistricting.

Janet DiFiore, then the chief judge, who sided with Republicans, has retired. Colleague Rowan Wilson was elevated to chief judge and Democratic attorney Caitlin Halligan filled Wilson's role as associate judge.

Halligan recused herself from the redistricting case, citing ties to one of the lawyers involved. Wilson then “vouched in” an Appellate Division judge, Dianne Renwick of the Bronx, to be the seventh judge on the bench for the redistricting arguments — a step a chief judge can, but doesn’t always, take. Republicans called it a “power grab.”

In the fast-paced question-and-answer style that marks most Court of Appeals arguments, Renwick got in just one question, a technical one that offered few clues to how she might view the case.

ALBANY — New York’s top court could hand down a decision as soon as Tuesday in a case centering on whether to redraw the state’s congressional districts.

It’s a case that has not only statewide, but national implications, given the narrow political divide in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Democrats are asking the state Court of Appeals to order the process to be redone. In a lawsuit, they argue that congressional lines drawn by a court-appointed “special master” in 2022 were a quick fix to put lines in place before the congressional primaries.

They contend those lines aren’t in accordance with state law that mandates lines be drawn by the state’s redistricting commission and the State Legislature, which is dominated by Democrats.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • New York’s top court could hand down a decision as soon as Tuesday in a lawsuit centering on whether to redraw the state’s congressional districts.
  • The case has statewide as well as national implications, given the narrow political divide in the U.S. House of Representatives.
  • Democrats argue that congressional lines drawn by a court-appointed “special master” in 2022 were a quick fix to put lines in place before the primaries. They say state law mandates the lines be drawn by the state redistricting commission and the State Legislature.

Republicans say that Democrats shouldn’t get a “do-over” and that redistricting is a once-a-decade process.

The Court of Appeals heard oral arguments last month — appearing divided on the matter. It is scheduled to issue decisions on an array of cases this week — the redistricting case is likely to be one of them.

The outcome will set the stage for the 2024 elections here and it could impact the balance of power in the House, where Republicans hold an eight-seat advantage.

“If the Democrats are successful in getting the map redrawn, there’s a chance the Republican margin in the House could be eaten up right here in New York,” said Jim Twombly, a retired Elmira College political scientist.

Notably, New York’s midlevel Appellate Division earlier this year agreed with Democrats on the process and said maps should be redrawn. For Republicans to prevail, the Court of Appeals would have to overturn the appellate division.

Redistricting is typically a once-a-decade process, completed after the most recent U.S. census. In New York, the Democratic-led legislature approved a map in early 2022 that could have given the party a chance to pick up as many as six seats in the state. But lower courts — and, eventually, the Court of Appeals — declared the districts illegally gerrymandered and handed the task to a special master.

Instead of Democrats gaining six seats, Republicans gained four — including two on Long Island — helping the GOP take the House in 2022. The GOP holds 11 of New York’s 26 seats under the special master’s map.

If Republicans win the ongoing lawsuit, Twombly said Democrats will look back with regret at a huge, missed opportunity to control and use the redistricting process to their advantage, as parties have done in states.

“If they hadn’t been so forceful in their attempt to maximize seats, Republicans might not have brought their lawsuit (in '22) or might not have won,” Twombly said.

At minimum, a new map would give Democrats better odds of winning swing seats on Long Island and in the Hudson Valley. Better odds for a party don’t always guarantee victories, said Lawrence Levy, dean of suburban studies at Hofstra University. “What we saw in the '22 races is if one party is much stronger on messaging and organization, it make up for whatever the courts may do,” Levy said, referring to big Republican victories on Long Island. The party also won most of the Island’s high-profile races this year.

Still, what happens with the lawsuit will be of interest nationally, he added. “New York hasn’t really mattered in national elections,” he said. “It’s really great that a deep blue state can have a major influence on national politics.”

Another important factor is the Court of Appeals has changed since last year’s 4-3 decision on redistricting.

Janet DiFiore, then the chief judge, who sided with Republicans, has retired. Colleague Rowan Wilson was elevated to chief judge and Democratic attorney Caitlin Halligan filled Wilson's role as associate judge.

Halligan recused herself from the redistricting case, citing ties to one of the lawyers involved. Wilson then “vouched in” an Appellate Division judge, Dianne Renwick of the Bronx, to be the seventh judge on the bench for the redistricting arguments — a step a chief judge can, but doesn’t always, take. Republicans called it a “power grab.”

In the fast-paced question-and-answer style that marks most Court of Appeals arguments, Renwick got in just one question, a technical one that offered few clues to how she might view the case.

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