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Court slaps New York Democrats with major loss over district map: 'Unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering'

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

An appellate court in New York hit Democrats with a significant loss late Thursday, ruling the congressional district map approved by state Democrats is illegally gerrymandered.

What is the background?

New York Democrats introduced their proposed map of the Empire State's congressional districts earlier this year, and the state legislature adopted it.

The map, which political geography expert Dave Wasserman "described as "brutal" for Republicans, drew congressional districts in such a way that Republicans would be able to win just four seats at most, making the 22 other districts Democratic strongholds.

What happened now?

An appeals court panel ruled that New York Democrats "engaged in unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering" when drawing the new map

The court explained Democrats thus violated the New York state constitution, which states that district maps "shall not be drawn to discourage competition or for the purpose of favoring or disfavoring incumbents or other particular candidates or political parties."

The court based its decision on three factors:

  1. "[D]emocratic leaders in the legislature drafted the 2022 congressional redistricting map without any [R]epublican input, and the map was adopted by the legislature without a single [R]epublican vote in favor of it."
  2. "[U]nder the 2012 congressional map there were 19 elected [D]emocrats and 8 elected [R]epublicans and under the 2022 congressional map there were 22 [D]emocrat-majority and 4 [R]epublican-majority districts."
  3. Third, the court agreed with the expert testimony of political analyst Sean Trende, who testified that it was "implausible, if not impossible" that the map was drawn without partisan intent.

Michael Li, senior counsel for the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, told the New York Times the outcome was not surprising.

"Like other state courts around the country, New York courts aren’t finding the question of whether a map is a partisan gerrymander a particularly hard one to decide," Li said. "It’s very hard to defend a map like New York’s, and ultimately if it quacks like a duck, it probably is a duck."

Affirming the state legislature's right to draw the map, the court thus ordered lawmakers to redraw the map by April 30 or a court-appointed neutral expert will redraw it. However, the court did not say whether primaries scheduled for June will be postponed due to the illegality of the current map.

Top Democratic leaders, including Gov. Kathy Hochul, are expected to appeal the ruling to the New York Court of Appeals, the state's highest court.

Why is this important?

Congressional maps are especially important this year because control of Congress hangs in the balance.

Although Democrats are expected to face a "shellacking" in the 2022 midterm elections, they can mitigate losses if they enact heavily gerrymandered district maps. But even gerrymandering may not save them, because an increasing number of Democrats are vulnerable to losing election.

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