ALBANY, N.Y. — A mid-level appellate court sided Thursday with Democrats in their quest to take another crack at gerrymandering New York’s congressional district lines.
A judicial panel said a redistricting process that would ultimately end up in the Democratic-dominated Legislature can start from scratch. This would result in new maps being drawn in time for the 2024 elections.
But the case is expected to be appealed to the Court of Appeals, the state’s top court, which will ultimately decide the issue. That looming decision will potentially reshape the political calculus in the congressional elections in New York, which has emerged as one of the country’s top battlegrounds.
Former Rep. John Faso, who has helped organize Republican efforts around redistricting in recent years, confirmed the ruling will be challenged.
“We remain confident the Court of Appeals will uphold the decision in Harkenrider v. Hochul – that the fair lines established by the District Court will be maintained and will preserve the New York Constitution’s prohibition against mid-decade redistricting,” he said in a statement.
The state judiciary threw out lines Democrats drew in 2022 that would have given the party clear advantages in 22 of New York’s 26 congressional seats. Then, court-drawn maps and strong Republican turnout resulted in last year’s midterm elections where Democrats won only 15 of the 26 seats.
The Democratic maps were tossed when the courts concluded that lawmakers did not take the proper steps before drawing the lines themselves. A new Independent Redistricting Commission was supposed to come up with two draft plans before the state Legislature could pick up the mapmaking pen, but they never met again after releasing one draft plan and a Steuben County judge took over the process.
Democrats had argued that the maps drawn by that judge should only have been used for the 2022 elections. A lawsuit brought by allies of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee called for the process to start from scratch before next year’s vote.
Three of the five judges who heard the case before the Third Judicial Department’s appellate division agreed.
“The right to participate in the democratic process is the most essential right in our system of governance,” the judges wrote in a decision handed down on Thursday morning. “The procedures governing the redistricting process, all too easily abused by those who would seek to minimize the voters’ voice and entrench themselves in the seats of power, must be guarded as jealously as the right to vote itself; in granting this petition, we return the matter to its constitutional design.”
The judges ordered the IRC to reconvene and start drafting new plans.
Should that process move forward, Democrats would be able to vote on the maps early next year and potentially approve their own next February.
Still, it’s been clear from the moment the case was first brought that the ultimate decision would ultimately rest with the Court of Appeals. Republicans did not immediately have comment on the decision on Thursday, but both sides have long expected the case to reach the next level.