The New York State Capitol in Albany.

The New York State Capitol in Albany. Credit: AP/Hans Pennink

ALBANY — A midlevel state court in Albany is expected to soon hand down a decision in a case that will decide whether New York Democrats get another crack at drawing the state’s congressional lines.

The lawsuit, supported by Democrats’ national campaign arm, asks the courts to reopen congressional redistricting in New York instead of waiting until after the 2030 census.

Republicans, using a golf analogy, said Democrats shouldn’t be given a “mulligan,” a second shot, after botching the mapmaking process in 2022. The Appellate Division of State Supreme Court is expected to issue a decision soon — though it’s all but certain the loser in the case will ask New York’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, to weigh in.

The fight is part of the maneuvering ahead of the 2024 elections, with Democrats seeking to regain congressional seats they lost in the state last fall — especially in the New York suburbs.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • A midlevel state court in Albany is expected to soon hand down a decision in a case that will decide whether New York Democrats get another crack at drawing the state’s congressional lines.
  • The lawsuit, supported by Democrats’ national campaign arm, asks the courts to reopen congressional redistricting in New York instead of waiting until after the 2030 census.
  • Republicans, using a golf analogy, said Democrats shouldn’t be given a “mulligan,” a second shot, after botching the mapmaking process in 2022.

Redistricting typically is a once-a-decade process, using population figures generated by the latest census to ensure all districts cover roughly the same number of residents.

In New York, a 2014 constitutional amendment orders the state’s “independent redistricting commission” to draw congressional maps, which the legislature accepts or rejects. If it’s the latter, the commission is supposed to submit a second version and, if it is rejected again, the legislature can draw its own maps.

That’s not how it played out last year.

After its first map was rejected, the commission — composed of five Democrat and five Republican appointees — couldn’t agree on a second version.

So the State Legislature — which is overwhelmingly Democratic — approved a set of maps that gave Democrats an enrollment advantage in 22 of New York’s 26 congressional districts.

Republicans sued and, eventually, New York’s top court ruled that the districts were gerrymandered illegally to favor Democrats and, importantly, that the constitutionally mandated process hadn’t been followed.

With the dates for primaries closing in, the courts appointed a “special master” to draw maps — which gave Dems the advantage in just 15 of the state’s 26 districts. In the end, Republicans made election gains in New York, including sweeping all four Long Island congressional seats.

The new lawsuit contends the court-ordered special master was a short-term solution and, now that there is no election time crunch, the mapmaking process should be sent back to the redistricting commission and the Legislature.

The court “drew a map in emergency circumstances for the 2022 elections only. That emergency is now over,” Aria Branch, an attorney for the Democrats, told the appellate judges in June.

One longtime election-law expert says she’s right.

“I think the pressure of the impending 2022 election is no longer a factor and the proper course should be a direction by the courts to have the IRC take another crack at it,” said Jerry Goldfeder, an election-law attorney who directs the Fordham Law School Voting Rights and Democracy Project.

The 2014 state constitutional amendment makes clear the commission and the state legislature have redistricting power, not a court-appointed referee, Goldfeder said.

He said there is no law or rule that says new maps must stay in place for 10 years — after the ensuing census — and that other Republican-controlled states have redrawn congressional lines mid-decade, as New York Democrats are asking to do.

Not so fast, say Republicans.

“It’s a laughable argument. No one considered this anything other than a 10-year plan,” said John Faso, a former Republican congressman who helped strategize the successful 2022 GOP lawsuit, referring to the maps put in place by the court.

“The legislature doesn’t get a mulligan,” he said. “They get one chance to follow the procedure, and if the procedure isn’t followed and they don’t enact a plan … then the only solution is a court-ordered plan.”

Whatever the court decision, it won’t be the main factor in determining which party gains congressional seats in New York next year — especially in the suburbs, said Lawrence Levy, executive dean of suburban studies at Hofstra University.

“There’s no question that [district] lines favorable to one party or another is a help to candidates on the ballot,” Levy said. “But when you are talking about suburban swing voters, it has less of an impact because more of them are in the category of ‘persuadable.’ ”

He added: “Whether Democrats or Republicans prevail, it would be a mistake to think a favorable map will guarantee them victories.”

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