Hochul, legislative leaders want to reassemble deadlocked redistricting commission
Leaders of the Democratic-controlled state legislature and New York Gov. Kathy Hochul are proposing that a court reconvene the state’s Independent Redistricting Commission. They want the commission to be charged with redrawing districts for the state Assembly 2024, after they were invalidated earlier this year.
In a brief filed in the Manhattan court overseeing the redrawing of the Assembly lines, lawyers for Hochul, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart Cousins argued that the court should remit the matter to the redistricting commission.
The same commission, comprised of an equal number of representatives appointed by Republicans and Democrats, deadlocked earlier this year lead. That led to each party submitting different sets of maps to the legislature. The legislature voted against the proposals and drew its own maps. The state’s highest court found that to be a violation of the state constitution, which dictates that the commission must submit a second set of maps to the legislature before it draws its own lines.
The Democratic leaders appeared to ask the court to avoid that same deadlock in redrawing the lines. They stipulated that the plan with “the highest number of votes in support of its approval by the IRC” be sent to the legislature, instead of a singular plan agreed to by the commission.
Under the proposed plan, the IRC would conduct a new round of public hearings around the state, and submit new maps to the legislature by Jan. 15 at the latest.
"Having the legislature draw the map, assuming that is what the constitution requires, opens the door to shenanigans, right?” Michael Li, Senior Counsel for the Brennan Center’s Democracy Project told WSKG. “Reassembling the Independent Commission, ultimately it is a process that the legislature gets to vote up or down on the maps and if the legislature votes them down, the legislature can draw its own maps and it can then draw maps that have impermissible considerations and that could lead to additional lawsuits."
Li adds that maps ultimately approved by the legislature may be more representative of cohesive communities. That's something that some Democrats have complained about with congressional and state Senate maps drawn by an independent expert earlier this year.
Lawyers representing Heastie and Hochul in the case did not respond to and declined requests for an interview respectively Tuesday.
The petitioners in the case, including New York Young Republican Club President Gavin Wax, activist Gary Greenberg, and failed Democratic gubernatorial candidate Paul Nichols, also briefed the court on their proposed process for the lines. They suggest the court appoint an independent redistricting expert, or special master, to redraw the lines.
“It will save the state money, the lines will be redrawn faster, the lines will be more fair and the new district lines will be implemented by the end of this year,” Aaron Foldenauer, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said in an interview with WSKG Tuesday.
The parties will appear in court to argue their positions before Judge Laurence Love later this month.
A separate lawsuit involving the Independent Redistricting Commission is also ongoing in Albany County Court. Petitioners in that lawsuit are asking a judge to order the redistricting commission to reconvene and submit new congressional and state Senate maps to the legislature, to be approved for elections in 2024. According to documents filed in the case, the New York Attorney General’s office is declining to represent members of the commission. The Attorney General’s office has not responded to repeated requests for comment.