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Appeals court orders new congressional lines in New York, a potential boon for Democrats

July 13, 2023 Michael Hill, Associated Press
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A mid-level state appeals court on Thursday ordered new congressional lines be drawn for New York, a ruling that could benefit Democrats in the 2024 fight for control of the U.S. House.

The Appellate Division of the state Supreme Court reversed a lower court and directed a state redistricting commission to start work on new proposed state congressional lines. Democrats are supporting the lawsuit, which seeks to scrap the 2022 lines in New York under which Republicans flipped four congressional seats.

The ruling was welcomed by Democrats as the party tries to retake the House majority they lost in last year’s elections. Republicans quickly pledged to appeal the politically charged case to New York’s highest court.

“On to the Court of Appeals,” former Republican Rep. John Faso said in a statement. “Democrats want to rig the congressional district lines in their favor. New York State now has more competitive congressional districts than any state in the nation.”

The lawsuit was brought on behalf of 10 New York voters who want the state’s Independent Redistricting Commission to submit new proposed state congressional lines for 2024. The commission’s first set of lines were rejected and a lawsuit led to the 2022 lines being drawn by a court-appointed expert.

In the current lawsuit, attorneys representing Republicans argued that mid-decade redistricting is improper and the 2022 lines should remain in place.

But Justice Elizabeth Garry wrote in a majority opinion that the commission “had an indisputable duty under the NY Constitution to submit a second set of maps upon the rejection of its first set.”

“New Yorkers deserve the fair lines and fair process they voted for, and today’s decision is a huge step in the right direction,” said attorney Aria Branch, who represented the people who brought the lawsuit.

The appeals court ordered the commission to “commence its duties forthwith.”

“We’re looking forward to getting back to work,” said Karen Blatt, the commission’s Democratic co-executive director. “And we’re looking forward to working with our Republican side as well.”

The Independent Redistricting Commission, a body made up of equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans, failed to reach a consensus on a set of maps for 2022. The Democrat-controlled Legislature stepped in and created its own maps.

Those maps would have given Democrats a strong majority of registered voters in 22 of the state’s 26 congressional districts, leading to charges of gerrymandering from Republicans.

After a court challenge, New York’s highest court ruled the Legislature lacked the authority to redraw the lines. The Court of Appeals handed authority to draw new district maps to an expert, who drew up the more competitive congressional districts.

Republicans were able to gain seats in New York under those maps, including one held by Democratic Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, who ran the House Democrats’ campaign arm.

In April, Democratic New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and State Attorney General Letitia James jointly filed a friend-of-the-court brief in favor of current legal action.

With a promised appeal to the Court of Appeals, New York Law School professor Jeffrey Wice noted it is generally easier for the high court to affirm a lower court decision than explain why they are reversing it.

“There’s no guarantee here,” Wice said, “but the chances of success for the Democrats just got a lot better.”

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