New York state Democrats engaged in gerrymandering when delineating new congressional district boundaries for the next decade, a panel of five mid-level appellate judges ruled Thursday.
In a 3-2 split decision, the majority found the Congressional map to be unconstitutional — a decision that, if upheld, would block the use of those district lines for the upcoming midterm elections in November.
The court found that Democratic lawmakers acted within their power to approve the maps, after a bipartisan redistricting commission failed to do so earlier this year. But the judges ruled that the 2022 Congressional map itself “was drawn to discourage competition and favor the Democrats.”
Lawyers for the Democrats had argued the cards were fair for Republicans, who lost their decades-long control of the state Senate in 2018 but won some rotating districts. Democrats said the new maps protect minority voting rights and reflect population loss in upstate communities once considered Republican strongholds.
Republicans make up about 22% of registered voters in New York and currently hold eight of the state’s 27 seats in Congress. But New York now gets one fewer seat after the 2020 census, and the new maps would have given Democrats a strong majority of registered voters in 22 of the state’s 26 congressional districts.
The GOP lawsuit cited computer simulations by election analyst Sean Trende, who found the maps were gerrymandered.
The tribunal relied on this analysis in its decision.
“Trende has been accepted by parties as an expert in election analysis with particular knowledge of redistricting. His direct testimony and expert reports were also received into evidence without objection,” the judges wrote.
Former Republican Congressman John Faso, an adviser to the petitioners who filed the lawsuit, said he was pleased with the ruling and said the Congressional card was “a blatant and unconstitutional gerrymander.”
Legislative leaders said they would appeal the ruling to the New York Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court.
Mike Murphy, spokesman for Democratic Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, said he was pleased the court said the legislature acted within its authority to approve the maps.
“The newly drawn Senate and Assembly (State) maps are now valid,” he said. “We always knew this case would end up in the Court of Appeals and we look forward to a hearing on our appeal to uphold the Congressional map as well.”
The Court of Appeal is expected to hear the case soon, potentially by next week.
So far this election cycle, the courts have stepped in to block cards they have found to be Republican gerrymanders in North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania, and Democratic gerrymanders in Maryland. Such decisions resulted in delayed primaries in North Carolina, Ohio and Maryland.