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New York's high court orders new congressional maps as Democrats move to retake control of US House

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New York's high court orders new congressional maps as Democrats move to retake control of US House
AP
ANTHONY IZAGUIRRE
December 12, 2023

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York’s highest court on Tuesday ordered the state to draw new congressional districts ahead of the 2024 elections, giving Democrats a potential advantage in what is expected to be a battleground for control of the U.S. House.

The 4-3 decision from the New York Court of Appeals could have major ramifications as Democrats angle for more favorable district lines in the state next year. Republicans, who won control of the House after flipping seats in New York, sought to keep the map in place.

The state’s bipartisan Independent Redistricting Commission will now be tasked with coming up with new districts, which will then go before the Democrat-controlled Legislature for approval. The court ordered the commission to file a map no later than Feb. 28.

“In 2014, the voters of New York amended our Constitution to provide that legislative districts be drawn by an Independent Redistricting Commission,” Chief Judge Rowan D. Wilson wrote for the majority. “The Constitution demands that process, not districts drawn by courts.”

The ruling is an early, but important, step in Democrats' plans to retake a handful of congressional districts in New York seen as vital to winning a House majority.

“Today’s decision is a win for democracy and particularly the people of New York. We are eager for the Independent Redistricting Commission to get back to work to create a new, fair congressional map – through the process New York voters intended," said U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene, chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Democrats sued to have last year’s maps thrown out after their party lost seats in the New York City suburbs and handed control of the House to Republicans.

The case came after Democrats in the state bungled the redistricting process for the 2022 elections, and along with what many considered political miscalculations at the top of the state ticket, drew blame for the party’s loss of the House.

The maps used last year were supposed to be drawn by the state's independent redistricting commission. But the commission, which is made up of an equal number of Democrats and Republicans, failed to reach a consensus and eventually gave up.

The state Legislature then stepped in and drew its own map, which was set up in a way to give Democrats a major edge by cramming Republican voters into a few super districts, diluting GOP voting power in the rest of the state. A legal challenge stopped the Democrats’ map from moving forward and the Court of Appeals ruled that the state didn’t follow proper procedure in adopting the maps.

Instead, the court had an independent expert draw a new set of lines that, along with strong turnout from the GOP, led to Republicans flipping seats in the New York City suburbs and winning control of the House in 2022.

Democrats then filed their own lawsuit to stop last year’s maps from being used in 2024, with the case going all the way to New York’s highest court. They argued that the court-drawn map was never meant to be used in more than one election and that the state’s bipartisan redistricting commission should have another opportunity to draw the maps.

Republicans have argued the districts are politically balanced and should not be discarded.

“We are disappointed but not surprised by the Court’s decision to allow Democrats a second attempt at gerrymandering the maps," said Savannah Viar, spokesperson for the National Republican Congressional Committee. “Instead of focusing on policies that appeal to everyday voters, Democrats are trying to cheat their way to power.”

Democrats have dedicated major financial and campaign resources to retake districts in New York next year. Republicans are aiming to hold onto the seats, focusing on issues such as crime and the arrival of migrants that they hope will animate suburban voters.

Still, the redistricting process is far from over. A new map will likely result in another legal challenge, with the commission's work closely watched by both Republicans and Democrats.

“We’re going to have a very busy holiday redistricting season to have maps ready by February," said New York Law School professor Jeffrey Wice, who focuses on redistricting.

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