Back to the drawing board: court of appeals nixes Dem-drawn maps

Election 2022-New York-Redistricting
FILE – A partial views of the New York state Capitol building, left, is shown next to the state Appellate court building in foreground, right, Monday, April 4, 2022, in Albany, N.Y.
AP Photo/Hans Pennink, File

Breaking with decades of precedent, the state’s highest court Thursday tossed out new Congressional and state Senate district maps drawn by the Democratic-controlled state legislature, ruling the maps will be redrawn by a lower-court judge with the supervision of an independent expert.

New York Law School Professor and redistricting expert Jeffrey Wice said this decision broke with long-standing precedents of the New York State Court of Appeals upholding the legislature’s redistricting lines and giving the legislature a chance to redraw the lines itself before handing the process over to the courts.

“This is a major, major precedent breaker in that not only did the the court invalidate a legislative redistricting plan, but it sent the plan back to the trial judge to redraw the congressional and State Senate lines, bypassing and shutting the legislature out of the process,” Wice told PoliticsNY. “They did that primarily because of the lack of time to hold a new primary this year, but courts usually give the legislature a chance to remedy a legal violation. And here, they’re giving the court the complete responsibility in redrawing the plan.”

That lower court judge is Steuben County Supreme Court judge Patrick McAllister, who originally issued the ruling that struck the Democratic-drawn maps down as unconstitutional because they were gerrymandered for partisan advantage. McAllister has already appointed Carnegie Mellon University fellow Jonathan Cervas to serve as the independent expert – or special master – who’ll oversee redrawing the Congressional and state Senate maps. And while McAllister was elected as a Republican, Wice said, Cervas is well-respected and considered to be non-partisan.

With Cervas already in place, Wice said he expects the new Congressional and state Senate lines should be completed by the end of May.

The decision comes after Democrats appealed a mixed western New York appellate court decision last week upholding McAllister’s initial ruling.

By including state Senate districts in the lines that have to be redrawn, the new ruling also reverses part of the lower-court decision that said only Congressional districts would have to get new lines. The Assembly’s maps, however, will stay intact.

The decision will likely throw this year’s Congressional and state Senate primary elections into disarray as candidates have already declared candidacy and collected signatures to make the ballots in the newly drawn districts that are now void. Those candidates, Wice said, will have to wait for the new district lines to be drawn and start from scratch.

The primaries for Congress and state Senate will likely be pushed back from June to August, Wice said, while those for the Assembly and statewide offices will continue as scheduled – meaning there’ll be two primaries this year.

“We had two primaries in the past and the court points that out,” Wice said. “There used to be a spring primary for Congress and the fall primary for everything else.”

Congressional Republicans are already celebrating the decision. In a statement, U.S. Rep. and gubernatorial candidate Lee Zeldin (R – Long Island) said the decision is “excellent news” for New Yorkers and framed it as a defeat for Gov. Kathy Hochul.

“New York’s Court of Appeals just tossed the hyper-partisan, gerrymandered Congressional and State Senate maps for the state,” Zeldin said. “This is excellent news for the people of New York and yet another big time defeat for Kathy Hochul and her Democrat allies.”