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New York Democrats ask federal court to restore overturned maps, keep primary in June

Hans Pennink

Democrats are asking a federal court to instruct the New York State Board of Elections to move ahead with elections under district lines that the state’s highest court tossed out last week as a partisan gerrymander.

In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court Southern District of New York late Monday, the Democrat-backed plaintiffs argue that throwing out and redrawing the maps violates a federal law and consent decree requiring the state’s primaries to be held in June.

The petitioners in the case request the federal court order the state Board of Elections to certify ballots for the June primary by Wednesday, and move ahead with the election using the congressional and state Senate maps that a court had found to be gerrymandered last week.

Lawyers for the Republican-backed plaintiffs in the original challenge to the maps in state court immediately requested that the federal court dismiss the suit. They argue that federal law permits New York to move its primaries and contend that it would be improper to reinstate maps that the state Court of Appeals found were illegally implemented.

“Plaintiffs’ requested remedy is absurd and against all equitable considerations,” Bennet Moskowitz, a lawyer for the Republicans, wrote in a letter to the court Monday. “Plaintiffs ask this Court to strike down a 2012 congressional map that the New York courts have already invalidated and replace it with another map that the New York courts have also already invalidated: the egregiously gerrymandered map that the Legislature had no authority to enact in the first place, because the Legislature failed to follow the New York Constitution’s exclusive process for enacting redistricting legislation.”

A hearing in the case is scheduled for Wednesday morning.

A lower court judge in Steuben County is overseeing the redrawing of the congressional and state Senate maps by an independent redistricting expert. Last week, that court also ordered congressional and state Senate primaries to be pushed back to Aug. 23, leaving all other primary elections in place for June 28.

Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York said she supports keeping the previous maps in place and continuing to hold all primary elections in June.

“There’s significant precedent across the country for leaving a map that has problems in place for one cycle and taking the time to draw a better map, which would be in place for the following cycle,” Lerner said during a press conference Tuesday morning.

The Democrats’ lawsuit, an apparent last attempt at keeping their maps in place, is supported by Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-18) who also chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

The lawsuit was filed the same day Democrats in the state Legislature passed legislation allowing former Lieutenant Governor Brian Benjamin to remove himself from the ballot. Benjamin resigned after being indicted with federal corruption charges.

WSKG will try to keep an updated file with all records from the federal court case here.