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NY court nixes Senate redistricting challenge

New York State Legislature's proposed new State Senate

New York State Legislature's proposed new State Senate electoral districts, released March 12, 2012 Credit: New York State Legislature

ALBANY -- New York's highest court upheld a Republican-driven redistricting plan Thursday that adds a new, 63rd State Senate seat.

In a 7-0 ruling, the Court of Appeals found that Democrats "failed to satisfy their heavy burden of establishing the unconstitutionality" of the plan. The ruling is a major victory for the GOP, which is clinging to a slim majority in the State Senate, the lone segment of government the party controls.

"While we are disappointed with today's decision, we are hopeful that remaining legal challenges will overturn the unfair State Senate maps," Senate Democratic spokesman Mike Murphy said in a statement. "In any event, Senate Democrats remain confident that even if the existing gerrymandered maps are ultimately upheld, Democrats will gain seats and retake the majority in the State Senate this November."

The lines drawn by the legislative majorities in the Senate and Assembly have been widely criticized as protecting incumbent lawmakers. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo had threatened to veto the lines but backed down, leaving the matter up to the courts and after securing legislation to change the process in 2022.

The ruling centered on the question of whether Republicans who control the Senate -- and therefore control the redistricting process - had violated the constitution by using two different formulas to calculate the number of legislative districts. Historically, calculations were done using one of two methods that result from changes in how counties and State Senate districts in Long Island, Queens and Staten Island were drawn in 1894.

The plaintiffs -- Sen. Martin Dilan (D-Brooklyn) and a group of citizens -- argued that the system had been manipulated to add a 63rd Senate seat, which will be in upstate where Republicans have an electoral edge over downstate where Democrats have an edge.

The court ruled that the state constitution was silent on the issue of whether two methods could be used and recognized that "the Legislature must be accorded a measure of discretion in these matters."

Currently, Republicans hold a 32-29 edge (with one vacancy) in the Senate, despite Democrats' 2-to-1 statewide enrollment advantage.

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