Government

New York judge tosses out new district lines, says congressional map is ‘unconstitutional’

A New York State judge tossed out new district lines Thursday, deeming the recently redrawn congressional map “unconstitutional.”

Justice Patrick McAllister of the New York State State Supreme Court in Steuben County ruled that Democrats drew the congressional lines to gain partisan advantage, and declared void all three maps — encompassing districts for the Senate, Assembly and Congress. He granted the legislature until April 11 to come up with new “bipartisanly supported maps.” 

“The court finds by clear evidence and beyond a reasonable doubt that the congressional map was unconstitutionally drawn with political bias,” wrote Judge McAllister, a Republican. “The process used to enact the 2022 redistricting maps was unconstitutional and therefore void.”

New York passed a constitutional amendment in 2014, approved by voters via referendum, aimed to protect against gerrymandering. The change was tested for the first time this year, with redistricting lines passed after the 2020 census.

A bipartisan Independent Redistricting Commission was tasked with taking in public input and relevant data to draft district lines. According to the IRC website, the commission had until Feb. 28 to submit a second plan for approval if the first was not passed. The IRC never submitted a revised proposal after the first failed, however, opening up the opportunity for state lawmakers to draw the maps themselves. 

The judge’s ruling notes the 2014 amendment includes “both a provision to prohibit discrimination against racial or language minority voting groups and a prohibition against creating maps with partisan bias.” 

“There is nothing in the constitution that permits the IRC to just throw up their collective hands,” Judge McAllister wrote in the decision, further condemning gerrymandering as a form of discrimination and disenfranchisement for voters. 

Gov. Kathy Hochul and Attorney General Letitia James said in a joint statement issued Thursday that they intend to appeal the judge’s decision.

Under the redistricting maps approved by Ms. Hochul, the Town of Southold would fall under the representation of Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) in Assembly District 1, rather than Jodi Giglio (R-Baiting Hollow) in District 2. Riverhead and Shelter Island would remain in Assembly District 2 and District 1, respectively. 

The North Fork remained relatively unaffected by redrawn state senate lines, even though a portion of District 2 would extend farther east to include a small portion of Calverton. 

NY-01, while still including the North Fork, was drastically redrawn in a way that would benefit the Democratic party. 

The maps have been criticized by North Fork politicians, including Ms. Giglio, who has previously argued the process “was not carried out to the letter of the law as the voters voted on it.” 

She said in a statement Friday that she’s glad the judge agreed.

“We both found the process and the final maps unconstitutional,” she said. “The redistricting process, as approved by the voters, was not followed by the majority Democrats. They were designed to favor their party and not to create a community unit and to keep one party rule in New York State and Washington D.C., leaving many New Yorkers unrepresented.”

State senator Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) said the IRC, “heralded by good government groups as an important reform” and passed with bipartisan support by the state legislature and New York voters, “was sadly rejected by Democrat majorities in the Senate and Assembly so they could craft their own maps, and congressional ones with one clear purpose in mind — to maintain and expand political power.”

“These maps are so egregiously partisan that they have been struck down at the State Supreme Court level,” he wrote in an emailed statement. “Whatever the final outcome is on the constitutionality of these maps — one thing is clear, they were not drawn to better serve the residents of New York. They were crafted to benefit the Democrat Party and their elected officials.”

Mr. Thiele, an Independent who caucuses with Democrats said “there was no question that any redistricting maps passed by the Legislature would be challenged,” and there is also no question that the issue will be ultimately decided by the State Court of Appeals.” 

“As I have stated, the redistricting maps approved by the State Legislature are not perfect,” he said in an emailed statement. “However, I am confident that the Legislature followed the applicable law in approving the maps. I note that the Republican judge in Steuben County even threw out the State Assembly maps, even though they were not challenged by any of the parties. Above all, it is imperative that this matter be disposed of expeditiously by the courts to avoid chaos in the upcoming primary and general election.” 

The redistricting maps have already disrupted elections for congressional district NY-01, which under the new lines, would favor the Democratic Party. Leading Democratic candidates called the district, currently represented by Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), “one of the best pick-up opportunities in the country.”

Candidate Jackie Gordon jumped into the race after her Copiague home landed in NY-01. She had previously been running to represent NY-02, in a rematch against Congressman Andrew Garbarino (R-Bayport).

Nicholas Antonucci, a Southold resident running on the Democratic ticket, withdrew from the race after the new lines were announced, saying they removed the area in the district he considered his base.

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