(CN) — New York’s Court of Appeals again heard arguments Wednesday on whether congressional lines should be redrawn in the state, which is expected to be a key battleground in 2024 as Democrats and Republicans fight for control of the U.S. House.
A pair of legal challenges, Harkenrider v. Hochul and Nichols v. Hochul, claimed the maps drawn up by the legislature in 2022 unfairly favored Democrats. New York’s high court agreed, and the courts drew up an emergency map for the 2022 elections.
But a New York appeals court ordered the state’s redistricting commission to redraw the state’s congressional districts earlier this year. Back in front of New York’s high court, Republicans argued Wednesday that the court-adopted maps should stay in place.
“New Yorkers throughout the state understood that that map was the end of the congressional redistricting cycle of this decade,” said Misha Tseytlin of Troutman Pepper, who represents the Republican electors.
New York’s redistricting process differs from most states because of its Independent Redistricting Commission, which was put into place after a 2014 constitutional amendment that created a new process of redistricting. After the Census each decade, the independent commission draws up new maps and submits them to the legislature for approval.
But that didn’t happen after the 2020 Census, when the process invited a host of scrutiny after the state legislature rejected the commission’s first round of maps. The commission was then supposed to come up with another proposal in the second round but missed their deadline.
Democrats argued the court-adopted map was only meant to be a temporary fix, but that the independent commission should be able to finish drafting a map before the 2024 election.
“The promise of the redistricting amendments has been deferred, but it need not be denied,” said Aria Branch, an Elias Law attorney working for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
But Tseytlin argued that creating another map would just allow for further confusion and invite further legal challenges.
“That inevitable gerrymander will be challenged in court again, it will cause more confusion and will cause embarrassment to the state of New York and its courts for launching the unnecessary fiasco that will follow,” Tseytlin said.
Arguments also centered on reading of the state’s constitution, with Republicans arguing that Democrats did not file their motion to compel the commission to act after failing to meet their deadline.
“They waited two months because they wanted to see if the court-adopted map was going to be in their political favor,” Tseytlin said.
But Branch said it was “presumptively constitutional,” because the process was still in place that allowed the state legislature to draw up maps if the commission failed to do so.
“We know now it was wrong but, at the time, they understood that maps were going to be drawn according to a process that allowed maps to be drawn by the legislature, by people they elected,” Branch said.
Since the Court of Appeals’ bench shifted earlier this year, this is the first major case its faced. Not long after former Chief Judge Janet DiFiore struck down the Democrat-favored maps, she announced her retirement. She is succeeded by Chief Judge Rowan D. Wilson, who was appointed to the court by Governor Kathy Hochul after Democrats in the state Senate rejected her first nomination to the court.
Wilson dissented from the court’s decision on redistricting in 2022, saying Republican electors failed to meet the “extraordinarily high” burden of overturning a legislative action as unconstitutional.
“Indeed, it is remarkably inaccurate to suggest that our Court is without power to review the Appellate Division’s ruling on the partisan gerrymander claim,” Wilson wrote.Follow @NikaSchoonover
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