The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

N.Y. congressional map is illegal and must be redrawn, court says

The ruling deals a blow to Democrats ahead of this year’s midterm elections

3 min

New York’s highest court struck down the state’s new congressional map as unconstitutional Wednesday, dealing a setback to Democrats ahead of this year’s midterm elections.

The state’s Court of Appeals sided with Republicans, who sued over complaints that the new lines were drawn to help Democrats win more seats. The court called the map “substantively unconstitutional as drawn with impermissible partisan purpose.”

New York Democrats drew a new congressional map with boundaries that could have gained their party as many as three new seats, a notable advantage at a moment when Democrats are fighting to keep their slim U.S. House majority during what many in the party fear will be a difficult election cycle.

The final ruling takes the mapmaking role away from the state legislature and gives it instead to a court-appointed “neutral expert.” The judges in their ruling determined there is enough time before the elections to finish the job, but they noted that the primary elections for Congress probably would be moved to August. The gubernatorial and other statewide elections would remain in June.

The Democrats, with control over the entire state government, drew a map that would have given their party an edge in 22 districts, compared with four where the Republicans would have had an advantage. The current New York delegation is composed of 19 Democratic seats to eight seats for Republicans. The state lost a seat after the 2020 Census reapportionment of congressional seats.

In 2014, New York voters approved a constitutional amendment to set up a separate entity outside the state legislature to control redistricting in an explicit effort to take partisanship out of the process. The 10-member commission was split equally along party lines. Of the members, eight were appointed by partisan legislative leaders. Their job was to draft a map for the state legislature to approve.

But the redistricting commission, as a result of its own partisan stalemate, never produced a final map, so the New York state lawmakers did it themselves.

The ruling Wednesday largely addresses the process as being unconstitutional, saying the voters had clearly supported new procedures for drawing district lines. But, after the commission failed at its job, the legislature “responded by creating and enacting maps in a nontransparent manner controlled exclusively by the dominant political party — doing exactly what they would have done had the 2014 constitutional reforms never been passed.”

Adam Kincaid, president and executive director of the National Republican Redistricting Trust told reporters that it was a “a big day for constitutional maps in New York.”

Kelly Ward Burton, president of National Democratic Redistricting Committee, argued in a tweet that because population growth in the state was in and around New York City, any “fair map” will “net seats for Dems from where they are now, period.”

Across the country, many new maps aimed to shore up existing partisan advantages to protect against diversifying populations over the past decade, eliminating competitive seats. In only a few did partisan lawmakers draw themselves more seats.

Although Republicans decry New York as an illegal gerrymander to help Democrats, they’ve defended partisan-drawn maps in GOP-led states. Democrats in Florida this week sued the state over its congressional map, arguing that the Republican-held government ignored voter-approved amendments to the state constitution banning partisan gerrymandering.

Also this week, a state district court in Kansas said a new congressional map, in which all four districts were drawn to favor Republicans, was an illegal gerrymander and ordered it redrawn. Republicans are expected to appeal that decision to the state Supreme Court.