Democratic leaders in Washington and Albany are seeking to reopen the process of drawing lines for New York State’s congressional districts.
The revived legal battle follows an attempt by Democrats last year to gerrymander the electoral map. At the time, their proposed map was rejected by the New York Court of Appeals. Then, it was replaced by a districting structure with more neutral lines–a move that saw Republicans gain four House seats in that year’s elections.
With the 2024 election on the horizon, the congressional mapmaking process is back on the table. Democrats are hopeful the proposed lines will sway back in their favor. The current maps, drawn by an expert appointed by the court, makes New York’s House race one of the most competitive in the country.
A legal team for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee presented their argument in an Albany court Thursday. Among their requests, they asked for the New York State Independent Redistricting Commission to take over the mapmaking process, and urged the appellate judges to replace the court-drawn districts.
Gerrymandering for Political Gain
While the case will likely ascend to the Court of Appeals, the impacts of re-drawing the maps with State Legislature involvement could flip up to six seats currently held by Republicans. The loss of those House seats could offset possible Republican gains from cases in North Carolina, Alabama, and other southeastern states.
Dave Wasserman, an elections analyst with the Cook Political Report, observed the potential ripple-effects of altering the congressional lines. In a statement to the New York Times, he noted how New York gerrymandering could impact the House.
“With the likelihood Republicans will re-gerrymander the lines in North Carolina, the legal fight over New York’s lines could determine whether Democrats stay in contention for House control in 2024.” Wasserman continued, “[The New York suit is] pretty close to must-win for Hakeem Jeffries to have a shot at becoming speaker.”
Democrats Hopeful for Favorable Ruling
While the Republicans were successful in arguing for dismissal of the case by a lower court judge, Democrats remain optimistic that their request will be granted.
“We think our chances are good, but it’s not something we are relying on,” said Jay Jacobs, the Democrats’ state party chairman. “If it happens, it’s a bonus.”
But Republicans, who have undertaken their own gerrymandering efforts in other states, are critical about Democrats’ proposed state redistricting.
Savannah Viar, a spokesperson for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said the Democrats were “weaponizing the courts to rig the game.”
Meanwhile, John Faso, a former congressman who helped coordinate the Republicans’ successful lawsuit against the Democrats’ proposed district lines, highlighted the hypocrisy of their renewed efforts.
“The Democrats, despite all of their rhetoric about fair elections and protecting democracy, are trying to subvert democracy in New York State,” Faso stated.
Democrats Argue Current Maps Undemocratic
The Democrats’ new lawsuit is also critical of the initial maps drawn by the court.
Christie Stephenson, a spokesperson for Jeffries, the House Democratic leader from New York, stated that allowing the current maps to remain would be “undemocratic, unacceptable and unconscionable.” She continued, “The people of New York are presently governed by congressional maps that were drawn by an unelected, out-of-town special master and rubber-stamped by a partisan, right-wing judge.”
On Thursday, Aria Branch, the lead lawyer for the Democrats, requested that the deadlocked state redistricting commission reconvene–a move unsupported by Republican members of the commission who argue that existing maps must stand until 2030.
Judges present for Thursday’s hearing remain undecided and are expected to announce their ruling this summer.