By MARINA VILLENEUVE
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York’s highest court on Wednesday rejected new congressional maps that had widely been seen as favoring Democrats, largely agreeing with Republican voters who argued the district boundaries were unconstitutionally gerrymandered.
The state’s Court of Appeals said lawmakers lacked the authority to pass the congressional and state Senate maps after an independent redistricting commission failed to reach a consensus.
The judges also said lawmakers gerrymandered the congressional maps to Democrats’ favor, in violation of a 2014 constitutional amendment designed to rout out political gamesmanship in redistricting.
The Appeals Court said it will “likely be necessary” to move the congressional and state Senate primary elections from June to August.
The group of Republican voters had said in their lawsuit not only that the maps were gerrymandered, but also that the Legislature didn’t follow proper procedure in passing them.
A lower-level court had also ruled that the maps were unconstitutional and had given the Legislature an April 30 deadline to come up with new maps or else leave the task to a court-appointed expert.
The judges in Wednesday’s ruling said a special court master will pass new district maps instead of the Legislature.
Judicial “oversight is required to facilitate the expeditious creation of constitutionally conforming maps for use in the 2022 election and to safeguard the constitutionally protected right of New Yorkers to a fair election,” the ruling read.
The ruling didn’t specify a deadline for the adoption of new maps. But the judges said they were sending the matter to a lower state court, which “shall adopt constitutional maps with all due haste.”
The legal fight over New York’s redistricting process could be a factor in the battle between Democrats and Republicans for control of the U.S. House.
New York is set to lose one seat in Congress in 2021. New York’s new maps would give Democrats a strong majority of registered voters in 22 of the state’s 26 congressional districts. Right now, Republicans currently hold eight of the state’s 27 seats.
Democrats had been hoping that a redistricting map favorable to their party in New York might help offset expected losses in other states where Republicans control state government.
Political district maps across the nation have been redrawn in recent months as a result of population shifts recorded in the 2020 census.
Under a process passed by voters in 2014, New York’s new district maps were supposed to have been drawn by an independent commission. But that body, made up of equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans, couldn’t agree on one set of maps. The Democratic-controlled Legislature then stepped in and created its own maps, quickly signed into law by Gov. Kathy Hochul.
Republicans then sued, seeing to have the maps tossed for violating a provision in the state constitution barring the redrawing of districts for partisan gain. Similar legal battles have been playing out in several other states.
The battle has moved quickly through the courts, but not fast enough to quell uncertainty about the primary, now scheduled for June 28.
In the meantime, candidates have had to begin campaigning in the new districts, even as they are unsure whether those districts will still exist by the time voting begins.