ALBANY — A midlevel appeals court on Thursday ruled that the Democratic majorities in the State Legislature violated the state constitution by engaging in partisan redistricting of congressional districts.
The court gave the Legislature until April 30 to redraw congressional district lines that would comply with the bipartisan protections required by the constitution and to correct “legal infirmities.” But the decision also reinstated the election district lines drawn for the Senate and Assembly, which a lower court had struck down as also being unconstitutional.
However, the case already is scheduled to go to the state Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court. The Court of Appeals had told attorneys in the case that they expected an appeal of the Apellate Division ruling and Democrats said they would appeal. The Court of Appeals could take up the issue next week on an expedited basis.
“We are pleased that the Appellate Division confirmed what all New Yorkers know: The congressional map that the Democrats in the legislature adopted is an egregious, unconstitutional gerrymander,” said Republican John Faso, a former congressman working on the GOP’s lawsuits against the legislature.
The legislature drew and approved new election districts for Congress and the State Legislature earlier this year. It’s part of a once-a-decade process of redistricting based on the latest U.S. Census.
Speed is important here because if the election districts drawn by the legislature and accepted by Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul are rejected by the Court of Appeals, new districts would have to be drawn by the courts. That could force rescheduling of the June primaries so that candidates have enough time to choose the district in which they will run and so challengers to the party designees can petition their way on to the ballot.
“The newly drawn Senate and Assembly maps are now valid,” said Mike Murphy, spokesman for the Senate’s Democratic majority. “We always knew this case would end at the Court of Appeals and look forward to being heard on our appeal to uphold the congressional map as well.”
Democratic lawyers had argued to the five-judge panel that even if the new maps help their party, it’s because Republican-dominated upstate areas lost population compared with downstate Democratic areas.
The new maps shifted the number of Democratic-leaning congressional districts from 19 to 22 and decreased Republican ones from eight to four, analysts have said. New York is losing one congressional seat this year, going from 27 to 26.
Republicans filed a lawsuit — in Steuben County, one of the most Republican counties in the state — to have the maps declared unconstitutionally gerrymandered. They also claim Democrats didn’t follow the proper constitutional procedure for adopting new maps — for not just congressional districts but also for the State Senate and Assembly.
On March 31, Republican Judge Patrick McAllister agreed with the GOP and ordered the legislature to draw up new maps and move the state primaries from June to August. But on April 7, the midlevel Appellate Division issued a temporary stay, or suspension, of McAllister’s decision until Thursday’s ruling.