The New York Court of Appeals, the highest court in the state judicial system, issued an order Tuesday night for an independent commission to redraw congressional districts for the 2024 election, deeming the boundaries that had been previously drawn as following an unlawful process.
The order is viewed as likely to benefit Democrats, who are expected to gain between two and six seats currently held by Republican members of New York’s congressional delegation as a result of it. However, Democratic state lawmakers won’t be able to directly gerrymander districts the same way other state legislatures allow for.
Per the order from the Court of Appeals, the new maps must be redrawn by the Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC), which consists of an equal number of Democrats and Republicans on its board.
The IRC was established in 2014 through a statewide ballot initiative. However, ambiguities in how the board functions — including what happens when it cannot — led to a complicated, and unlawful, map-drawing process in 2022, the court found.
Following the decennial census of 2020, the IRC deadlocked, unable to agree on a set of maps to send to the state legislature and governor to approve. As a result, the Democratic-run state legislature drew its own maps, which were challenged by Republicans soon after, resulting in a lower court ordering an independent expert (unaffiliated with both the legislature and the IRC) to redraw the maps instead. That new map created a much more competitive landscape in the 2022 midterms, allowing Republicans to win some districts that President Joe Biden had carried in 2020.
That entire ordeal wasn’t compliant with what voters had called for in approving the IRC in 2014, the Court of Appeals ruled.
“In 2014, the voters of New York amended our Constitution to provide that legislative districts be drawn by an Independent Redistricting Commission. The Constitution demands that process, not districts drawn by courts,” the order on Tuesday said.
The ruling was a narrow 4-3 decision in favor of having the IRC redraw new districts for the 2024 congressional races, no later than February. Republicans blasted the decision, with a spokesperson for the National Republican Congressional Committee claiming that Democrats were “trying to cheat their way to power.”
But the ruling means that the evenly split 10-person commission, which has an equal number of members from both parties involved, will take the lead in the map-drawing process. It also ensures that the Democratic-dominated state legislature cannot create its own maps if the IRC fails to do so, as it tried to do in 2022.
New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) lauded the ruling, writing on social media that “the court’s decision to redraw New York’s Congressional maps is a big victory to ensure our electoral process is transparent and follows our state’s constitution.”
The ruling could have huge implications for the national political landscape, too. With the House of Representatives being so narrowly divided, any change in how districts are redrawn, in any state, could benefit Democrats or Republicans by giving them control of the congressional chamber beyond the 2024 elections.
Even a few surefire wins could help erase the hole Democrats nationally are facing after Republicans drew a potent gerrymander in North Carolina that will all but guarantee the GOP picks up three or four seats there.
New polling indicates, too, that congressional races across the country will once again be incredibly tight next year. An Economist/YouGov survey published on Wednesday, for example, finds that voters are mostly split on who should win the House, with a slight plurality — 44 percent — saying they’d prefer Democrats over Republicans, who attained 41 percent support in the poll.
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