Democrats’ Best Map Tossed

New York's highest court rejected congressional maps enacted by state Democrats and found them to be unconstitutionally gerrymandered. 

Last week, the New York Court of Appeals upheld two previous court rulings, one from a county court and the other from the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court, to nullify both the state’s new congressional and state Senate maps.

In New York, the Court of Appeals is the highest judicial panel, equivalent to state Supreme Courts in most other places.

While political gerrymandering in conjunction with a map that would likely have yielded 22 Democratic victories and only four Republican wins was certainly an issue, the fundamental ruling pronounced that the legislature did not have the legal authority to draw the maps just because the bipartisan redistricting commission was unable to complete their task by the assigned deadline.

The ten-member commission, comprised of four Democrats and four Republicans that the legislative leadership appointed and two more unaffiliated members who the commissioners selected, completed work on the state Assembly map, but failed to agree upon state Senate and congressional plans. Seeing that the candidate filing deadline was fast approaching, the legislative leadership usurped the commission and drew the maps themselves, then submitted the plans to the members of both bodies for passage. The court decisions ruled the leaders lacked the power to take such action.

The high court then remanded the maps to the lower court to draw revised congressional and state Senate plans with the aide of a special redistricting master to direct the task implementation. While not ordering a new primary date, the court decision certainly recommended that the June 28 nomination election be moved to a date in August.

Re-scheduling the primary would mean all candidates would have to re-file in the new districts, which would again require a set of qualifying petition signatures. All congressional candidates must submit 1,250 valid registered voter signatures from the confines of the district sought, while state Senate candidates must likewise recruit 1,000 signatures under the same requirements.

It is unclear if the decision is made to move the primary date whether the statewide and other office nomination elections set for late June would also be forced to abide by the new schedule. If so, then all of the nomination periods would extend into August. It is undetermined if those candidates would also have to re-file and obtain new signatures, but it is doubtful that they would since the confines of their particular electoral boundaries did not change.

If the other races are not affected by the primary change, the state would be forced to hold two separate primary elections, one on June 28 for the majority of political contests, and the other on a new date at some point in August that would cover only the congressional and state Senate campaigns.

Invalidating the congressional map is a crushing blow to the Democratic leadership not only in New York, but nationally as well. Throughout the 50 states, the Democrats controlled the redistricting pen in only four places where they could gain seats: New York, Illinois, New Mexico, and Oregon. The first two listed states are critical to their 2022 prospects of holding their slim US House majority because their combined maximum partisan maps were likely to yield a net gain of seven seats.

Earlier in the year, Republicans lost a similarly advantageous map in North Carolina. On the original draw that the NC state Supreme Court rejected, Republicans looked to be in position to possibly gain a net three seats. The replacement court map could now mean a net gain of two Democratic seats, or a swing of five in the Democrats’ favor.

A similar result on the New York court map, or one that would simply restore the four lost seats and return to eight Republicans coming from the state, would be a major boon to the national GOP’s majority targeting strategy. Should the new Sunshine State map withstand its legal challenges before the Florida state Supreme Court the national redistricting pendulum would swing back toward a Republican advantage. In this latter map, the GOP could potentially gain a net four seats.

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