What happens now in the legal redistricting battle?

Posted on April 26, 2022 at 8:07 a.m. by West Side Rag

By Rachel Holliday Smith, THE CITY, aAdditional reporting by Claudia Irizarry Aponte and George Joseph


This article has been originally published
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by THE CITY

When Albany’s “independent” commission failed to come up with legislative maps that everyone could agree on earlier this year, Democrats controlling the Capitol took matters into their own hands. The Republicans cried foul and two courts partially agreed with them.

A suffrage activist demonstrates near City Hall against the redistricting plan in Queens, January 31, 2022. Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY.

Who will be your next representative in Albany or Washington? It depends on what neighborhood you live in – and that remains to be seen.

Ahead of the general election in November, New Yorkers are expected to vote in the party’s primaries on June 28. Because the city is so blue, few seats, either federal or state, are truly up for grabs in the fall. The primary is when most electoral choices are really made.

But the process is now partially in limbo, thanks to two court rulings since late March that overturned political district lines, collectively known as maps, that state lawmakers approved earlier this year.

These maps had already taken into account some major political decisions.

For example, State Senator Alessandra Biaggi had previously launched a campaign for a new congressional seat that combined parts of her district in the Bronx and Westchester with Queens and Long Island. In Brooklyn and Staten Island, former Congressman Max Rose is running again for his old seat, which was redesigned to include super-liberal Park Slope.

The court’s first ruling in March had dismissed all maps, but the Appeals Division reinstated all lines except the congressional district lines in an April 21 ruling.

And now? There are a lot of variables. So we spoke to election law experts to find out what New Yorkers should know about the redistricting chaos right now.

What happened to political maps and what’s next?

The maps at issue here were approved by the Democratic-controlled state legislature and Governor Kathy Hochul on Feb. 3. Shortly after, state Republican-backed voters prosecutedclaiming that the maps were gerrymandered and, therefore, unconstitutional.

On March 31, State Supreme Court Justice Patrick McAllister in northern Steuben County ruled in favor of the GOP, saying the card’s challengers had proven “beyond reasonable doubt that the card was enacted with a political bias”. (Reminder: in New York, the “Supreme Court” is the lowest legal level for judges; the Court of Appeals is the highest.)

He ordered the legislator to draw up new maps before April 11.

But the Senate and State Assembly immediately appealed, triggering an automatic stay or pause of the judge’s decision.

Then, on April 21, a panel of Appellate Division judges ruled in favor of the lower court’s decision with respect to congressional districts, but reversed the lower court’s decision with respect to congressional districts. of State.

The judges wrote in the opinion that state Democrats “failed to discharge the heavy burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the Legislature drew the map of the 2022 congressional district in such a way” as to discourage competition or or for the purpose of favoring or disfavoring the incumbents or other particular candidates or political parties,” citing the state constitution.

So the federal districts are now up in the air, but the Senate and State Assembly districts are fine, according to the court.

The latest ruling ordered the state legislature to draw a new map of congressional districts by April 30.

The Court of Appeal has already announced that it will hear the case on Tuesday, April 26. Its decision will override that of the two lower courts.

As the case progresses, the state’s current political calendar has set May 4 as its deadline to certify the June 28 primary ballot.

Remind me: how did we get these cards?

Albany lawmakers had created new political boundaries for Senate and Assembly districts in the state, as well as seats in Congress, based on 2020 population figures from the U.S. Census Bureau. The process is happening every 10 years in each of the 50 states.

This time in New York, the process was meant to be more fair, independent and less partisan. That was the goal of a 2014 constitutional amendment anyway that created an independent redistricting commission to create maps in a bipartisan manner.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins ​​on August 24, 2021. Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of the Governor.

But the IRC published dueling cards divided along partisan linesthen failed to come up with another set by the deadline set by the state constitution.

Eventually, the cartography returned to the legislature after the failure of the so-called “independent” commission.

In early 2022, both state legislative houses created the maps we have today and Governor Kathy Hochul signed them.

Aren’t the candidates already in the running for the June primary? What happens to them?

Yes, many potential candidates are preparing to run for office within the same political borders that are squabbling in the courts.

In their ruling, the Appeals Division judges made no mention of the June primary, or whether it should change to give candidates and voters more time to prepare for the election. Courts handling redistricting cases in other states have ordered new primary dates, most recently in Maryland.

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY
Senator Alessandra Biaggi is running for Congress in a district that is in limbo. September 13, 2021.

For weeks, candidates have asked to be put on the ballot, a cumbersome process that involves collecting hundreds of signatures from voters and then submitting them to the state Board of Elections for approval.

According to the BOE’s political calendar, candidates had to submit these petition signatures between Monday, April 4 and Thursday, April 7.

During the court battles, election lawyer Sarah Steiner advised her candidate clients to go ahead and submit their signatures.

What is the most likely outcome for the cards?

Experts we spoke with said the most likely scenario is that New York’s highest court overturns previous rulings and the legislature’s maps will stand.

Jeff Wice, a New York Law School professor and a veteran of two previous redistricting processes in New York, said the precedent for the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, is that they have “always defer to the legislature and its judgment” on redistricting. issues.

Attorney Jerry Goldfeder, also a veteran of election law, said the timing of the case doesn’t leave much room for change before the June primary.

“The United States Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that changes to election laws should not be made on the eve of an election,” he said.

Steiner pointed out that if the courts ordered a map change, it would throw the election calendar into chaos — and any changes to the primary date or the ballot registration process would have to come from the legislature, not the courts.

“Do you really see the legislature, which just went through the petition with its cost of volunteering and its cost of time and money… Do you really see them saying, ‘Oh, sure. Let’s do it again’?’ she asked.

OK, but what if the cards are discarded?

The possibility remains that the higher courts — either the Appeals Department or the Court of Appeals — will side with the Steuben County judge. From there, any number of things could happen, including the court ordering the legislature back to the drawing board.

If that happened, the political boundaries would change again and the many candidates who have flocked to the races since the new maps appeared – or bowed out – would need to reconsider.

Source: New York State Legislative Task Force
Will Welch / THE CITY.

The way the maps are drawn has national implications, and the lines of the Federal District of New York could have a big impact on whether Democrats retain control of the House of Representatives.

It is also possible that a third party, and not the legislator, will be led by the courts to create new policy lines.

So what’s a voter – or potential candidate – to do?

Stay patient, experts say.

Candidates should campaign as usual. And all voters can do is wait and see because “we just don’t know,” Wice said.

“It’s best to take it one day and one step at a time,” he said.

It might not hurt to find out about some candidates running in districts adjacent to yours, just in case.

Goldfeder hoped this would be resolved sooner rather than later — before voters became even less engaged.

“The unintended consequence here is that voters become more disenchanted with the politics involved and don’t know who their representatives will be,” he said. “So it really needs to be decided very quickly.”

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