New York's high court will decide whether to strike down new congressional district lines
The state’s highest court heard arguments Tuesday on whether New York’s new congressional lines are unconstitutionally gerrymandered and have to be redrawn.
The court heard an appeal of two lower court rulings, which had struck down the new congressional lines.
A mid-level appeals court upheld the new state Senate and Assembly district lines.
Republicans, who are in the minority in state government and who brought the lawsuit, argue that the new districts, which were drawn by Democratic supermajorities in the legislature, unfairly disadvantage at least four of the state’s eight GOP congressional representatives.
Under the plan, Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, the only Republican representing New York City, would see the Brooklyn liberal neighborhood of Park Slope be added to her predominately conservative Staten Island district.
Upstate, two Republican members of Congress were drawn out of their districts altogether, and both planned to move to try to retain their seats. On Long Island, a seat being vacated by Rep. Lee Zeldin, who is the Republican nominee for governor, was reconfigured to add more Democratic areas.
Misha Tseytlin, arguing for the Republicans, said the Democrats violated the state’s constitution, amended by voters in 2014, which prohibits the drawing of districts to advantage an incumbent or disadvantage challengers, and discourage competition.
“They also set up the strongest language prohibiting partisan gerrymandering found in any constitution in the United States,” said Tseytlin, who said the legislature then “ignored” that process “in the very first redistricting process where this was relevant."
The amendment also authorized a bipartisan redistricting commission, known as the IRC, to have two chances to draw fair maps, before the legislature was permitted to intervene and draw the maps itself. The commission gridlocked along party lines and drew two opposing maps, but never submitted a second set of maps.
Democrats in the legislature say they drew the lines fairly, and any changes were to correct unfair lines drawn during past decades when republicans had more sway in redistricting decisions. Attorneys for the legislative leaders argued at the appeal, as did Jeffrey Lang, a lawyer for Gov. Kathy Hochul, who is named in the suit.
"We seriously disagree with the proposition that this was an egregious gerrymander,” Lang said. “We don’t believe it was a gerrymander at all.”
The court is made up of seven judges, all appointed by either Hochul or her predecessor, Andrew Cuomo, both Democrats. They peppered both sides with questions, including queries about potential remedies they should order, if they find that the maps did violate the constitution.
Tseytlin, representing the Republicans, said the court should appoint a neutral, court appointed special master.
Attorneys for the Democrats say the legislature, which is controlled by Democrats, should be given another chance to redraw the lines.
Judge Michael Garcia asked Lang, Hochul’s attorney, whether a potential compromise could include allowing the legislature to submit a proposed new map to a special master.
Lang said he believes any new maps drawn should then be reviewed by a lower court judge.
“So we would have to start the whole process from the beginning?” Garcia asked.
Lang said yes, he believes the process would have to start over, and with a primary scheduled for June 28, and the petitioning for candidates already concluded, there’s not enough time for that.
“The election has simply proceeded too far down the road,” Lang said.
Judge Jenny Rivera asked whether the argument of a tight election timeline would potentially permit lawmakers to gerrymander in the future, and then say it’s too late to make changes.
“Doesn’t that incentivize what happened here?” Rivera asked. “Especially for those who might want the kind of outcome that they think they find in the lines as they were drawn?”
Lang answered that he doesn’t think that would happen.
The court is expected to issue its ruling within days.