New York Republicans Sue Over Democrats’ Dramatic Congressional Gerrymander

ALBANY, NEW YORK - AUGUST 11: The New York State Capitol is seen on August 11, 2021 in Albany, New York. Lt. Gov. and incoming NY Gov. Kathy Hochul gave her first press conference after Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced th... ALBANY, NEW YORK - AUGUST 11: The New York State Capitol is seen on August 11, 2021 in Albany, New York. Lt. Gov. and incoming NY Gov. Kathy Hochul gave her first press conference after Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that he will be resigning following the release of a report by the New York State Attorney General Letitia James, that concluded that Cuomo sexually harassed nearly a dozen women. Hochul will be New York's first woman governor. (Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images) MORE LESS

A Republican-led group of voters is challenging the newly approved congressional districts in New York, arguing in a lawsuit that the new districts are unlawfully gerrymandered in Democrats’ favor. 

In a 67-page complaint, filed in state court in Steuben County Thursday, the petitioners argued that “Democratic Party politicians who control the New York Legislature and Governor’s office brazenly enacted a congressional map that is undeniably politically gerrymandered in their party’s favor,” despite a 2014 constitutional amendment approved by voters.

The constitutional amendment barred partisan gerrymandering, as well as gerrymandering meant to favor incumbents. 

It also created a so-called “Independent Redistricting Commission” consisting of 10 members: Four each appointed by the majority and minority leaders of both state legislative chambers, and the remaining two appointed by those initial eight. 

When that commission deadlocked on a redistricting proposal this year, presenting two different maps rather than one, power to redraw district lines shifted to the legislature, which on Wednesday passed (along party lines) a congressional map that would net Democrats three additional congressional seats while stripping Republicans of four seats (New York lost one congressional seat due to population loss reflected in the 2020 census). 

Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) signed the congressional map into law on Thursday.

Michael Li, a redistricting expert at the Brennan Center, has called Democrats’ map “a master class in how to draw an effective gerrymander,” and one that would have been barred if congressional Democrats had been able to pass national voting rights legislation — which New York’s Democratic delegation supports, and New York’s congressional Republicans have called “radical” and “partisan.” 

“Yes it’s true there were population losses upstate,” Li told the Associated Press separately. “But they also radically redrew a lot of the districts well beyond what they needed to do to account for population losses.”

A report in FiveThirtyEight, the Republicans’ lawsuit noted, argued “The fact that New York could end up with such an egregious congressional map represents a failure for the state’s new redistricting process.” 

The suit itself accused the “Democratic Caucus” of the redistricting commission of violating procedural requirements, “after receiving encouragement to undermine the constitutional process from Democratic Party politicians and officials.”

It also alleged that the map ultimately passed by the legislature was “an obviously unconstitutional partisan and incumbent-protection gerrymander.” 

The complaint went district-by-district, accusing Democrats of “cracking” and “packing” Republican votes in order to minimize GOP representation in Congress.

“Allowing this map to be enacted deals a crushing blow to the State’s representative democracy and the faith of the People in those governing them,” the suit alleged, asking the court to draw its own congressional map “cured of all legal infirmities,” or to order the legislature to try again. 

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