Panel of judges hears arguments in New York gerrymandering lawsuit
Did New York's Democratic-led Legislature unconstitutionally pass new maps setting congressional district boundaries for the next decade? That's among the questions before a panel of five mid-level appellate judges, who began hearing arguments Wednesday in Rochester.
A group of Republican voters say the maps are indeed gerrymandered, and have filed a lawsuit in state court asking to have the maps tossed out and to delay the June congressional primaries until late August. They say this would give the state enough time to draw up new maps.
Democrats' attorneys say the maps are more than fair to Republicans, who lost their decades-long control of the state Senate in 2018 but have won some swing districts. Democrats say the new maps protect minority voting rights and reflect population loss in upstate communities once considered Republican strongholds.
Republicans represent about 22% of registered New York voters, and currently hold eight of the state's 27 seats in Congress. But New York now gets one less seat following the 2020 Census, and the new maps would give Democrats a strong majority of registered voters in 22 of the state's 26 congressional districts.
So far this election cycle, courts have intervened to block maps they found to be Republican gerrymanders in North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania, and a Democratic gerrymander in Maryland. Such decisions have led to delayed primaries in North Carolina, Ohio and Maryland.
The panel of judges in New York is considering several key questions, including whether the congressional map is gerrymandered, whether the Legislature overstepped its authority in drawing up the maps and whether the Republican voters have the standing to sue over the maps in the first place. It's unclear if the judges will release a decision following Wednesday's live-streamed oral arguments in Rochester.
The GOP lawsuit cites computer simulations by election analyst Sean Trende, who found the maps were gerrymandered.
"It's every good government group — left, right and center — saying this," said their attorney, Bennet Moskowitz.
Attorney Alice Reiter, representing the state Senate, said the GOP voters don't have enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Democrats gerrymandered the maps. She called Trende's analysis flawed and said no courts have ever tossed out maps based on computer simulations.
"I think that the process was along partisan lines, but that is a far cry from any proof that it was partisan intended," she said.
Democrats also say there isn't enough time to change the maps for 2022 races, and say the judges should toss the lawsuit because it doesn't include voters in all districts statewide.
A lower-court judge declared last month that New York's new maps were drawn up unconstitutionally and ordered the legislature to quickly redraw them. The judge said the congressional maps specifically were unconstitutionally gerrymandered, and said the legislative maps should also be tossed because lawmakers exceeded their authority when they passed them.
Attorneys for the state Senate, Assembly and Governor Kathy Hochul appealed the lower-court ruling and said the judge was wrongly limiting the Legislature's power.
An appeals judge this month allowed the lower court judge to hire an expert to draw up alternative congressional district maps in case the disputed ones ultimately get tossed.