New York’s top court rejects new district lines

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The New York state Capitol building. (Wangkun Jia/Stock.Adobe.Com)

New York’s highest court has struck down the state’s new district lines for Congress and the state Legislature, throwing the June 28 primary into potential chaos.

On Wednesday, the court upheld lower court rulings that determined that Democrats, who hold supermajorities in both houses of the Legislature, deliberately gerrymandered the districts to favor candidates in their party.

The 4-3 ruling, which cannot be appealed, ordered that a court-appointed special master will now redraw the lines.

“The enactment of the congressional and senate maps by the legislature was procedurally unconstitutional, and the congressional map is also substantively unconstitutional as drawn with impermissible partisan purpose,” wrote Chief Judge Janet DiFiore in the majority opinion. “Prompt judicial intervention is both necessary and appropriate to guarantee the People’s right to a free and fair election.”

The petitioning period for the June primary has already passed, and ballots for early voting were due to be printed in a matter of weeks, so it’s likely that the primaries for congressional and state legislative races will have to be put off until later in the summer.

In the past decades, challenges to district lines have failed. The difference this time, is that voters approved a 2014 constitutional amendment that prohibits the drawing of districts that would advantage an incumbent, disadvantage challengers or discourage competition.

Republicans, who are in the minority party in state government and who brought the lawsuit, argued that the new districts unfairly disadvantaged at least four of the state’s eight GOP congressional representatives.

Under the plan, Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, the only Republican representing New York City, would see the liberal Park Slope neighborhood in Brooklyn added to her predominately conservative Staten Island district.

Upstate, two GOP congressional reps were drawn out of their districts altogether, and said they planned to move to try to retain their seats. On Long Island, a seat being vacated by Rep. Lee Zeldin, who is the Republican nominee for governor, was reconfigured to add more Democratic areas.

Democrats maintained that they drew the lines fairly, and that any changes made were to correct unfairly drawn lines during past decades when Republicans had more sway in redistricting decisions.

Republican Senate Minority Leader Robert Ortt said in a statement that the decision “affirms our position that under One-Party Rule, Albany politicians engaged in obvious partisan gerrymandering, violating the State Constitution.” He wrote, “Albany’s ruling class decided to put their political survival ahead of the will of the people.”

A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins issued a terse reply.

“We are reviewing the decision,” said Senate Democratic spokesman Mike Murphy.