Upstate judge throws out state redistricting maps; appeal planned
An upstate judge on Thursday threw out New York’s redistricting maps for Congress and the State Senate, giving Republicans a first-round victory in what will be at least a three-round fight in the state court system.
State Supreme Court Judge Patrick McAllister of Steuben County said maps adopted by the Democratic-dominated State Legislature and signed by Gov. Kathy Hochul were illegal because they gerrymandered districts to favor Democrats and didn’t follow the proper constitutional process.
Democrats immediately said they would appeal the decision issued by McAllister, a Republican. And they will ask a midlevel appeals court to “stay,” or temporarily suspend, it from taking effect while the court case continues.
The new maps, adopted earlier this year in conjunction with the once-a-decade census, shifted the number of Democrat-leaning congressional districts in New York from 19 to 22 and decreased Republican ones from eight to four, analysts have said. The Steuben judge seized on that analysis in his ruling.
“The court finds clear evidence and beyond a reasonable doubt that the congressional map was unconstitutionally drawn with political bias,” McAllister wrote in an 18-page decision.
McAllister ordered the State Legislature to produce new congressional and Senate maps by April 11. He said the state’s primary could be moved from June 28 to Aug. 23 to give candidates time to get on the ballot in newly configured districts.
But if the Democrats’ request for a stay is granted, McAllister’s deadline and new primary date effectively would be nullified.
The judge himself acknowledged his ruling was “only the beginning of the process and not the end of the process.” The case will probably go all the way to the Court of Appeals, New York’s highest bench.
McAllister also struck down maps outlining New York’s 63 State Senate districts as unconstitutional. Boundaries for the 150-district State Assembly weren’t challenged in court as they weren’t changed substantially from the 2012 maps.
Besides the issue of gerrymandering, McAllister said legislators didn’t strictly follow the state’s constitutional redistricting process for Congress or the Senate.
It called for a redistricting panel to submit proposed maps to the Legislature, which it did but were voted down in January. Per law, the panel then was to submit another proposal to the Legislature.
But that never happened because the panel, with five Republicans and five Democrats, couldn’t reach an agreement. Republicans accused Democrats on the panel of sabotaging the process by not negotiating.
When the panel failed to act, the Legislature took over, drew its own maps and quickly approved them.
McAllister said failing to vote on second set of maps was a fatal error in the Legislature’s process.
John Faso, a former Republican congressman and adviser on the GOP-driven lawsuit, hailed the ruling.
“The decision rendered today by Justice Patrick McAllister is a complete victory for petitioners; more importantly, it is a victory for the people of the State of New York,” Faso said in a statement.
Mike Murphy, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) countered: “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.”