The New York State Court of Appeals on Tuesday granted Democrats who control the state legislature a chance to approve a new set of congressional district lines for the state, effectively throwing out a map that led to several Republican victories in 2022 House races.
The ruling could be consequential in determining which party controls the House during the next Congress. In 2022, Republicans flipped four districts in New York, giving them a razor-thin majority in the House. Democrats need to win a net of five seats to win back the House next year.
Evan Roth Smith, a Democratic consultant who is not working with any congressional candidate in New York, said Democrats received a painful education last year about redistricting.
“I think the lesson is to find a set of maps that can get through the process, because if you throw it to a special master, you have no idea what you’ll get,” Smith said.
A Republican campaign strategist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the party’s analysis of the races, said the party had long anticipated tough reelection fights for its New York freshman members. But, this person said, Republicans believe that Democrats do not have much room to heavily gerrymander the districts because the political climate for their party is so bad right now.
Democrats, who control the state legislature, will nevertheless now have the upper hand in redrawing the state’s congressional districts ahead of next year’s elections.
The decision by the seven-judge panel follows a two-year court battle over the fate of the New York map.
As a result of a 2014 constitutional amendment adopted by state voters, an independent commission was created to steer the New York congressional mapmaking process. But when the commission remained deadlocked in 2022, Democrats attempted to establish a map plan. Republicans subsequently took legal action, and the Court of Appeals in 2022 struck down the Democratic plan and instead appointed a neutral expert to draw a replacement map, which was used during the 2022 midterms.
Democrats had argued to the Court of Appeals that the map used during the 2022 midterms, created by the neutral expert, was a short-term solution and that the independent commission — which has voting rules that are based on party control of the state legislature — should ultimately be responsible for finishing its work and providing a plan to be approved by the legislature.
“The Court’s decision today is plainly wrong on the Constitution and the law,” New York Republican Party Chairman Ed Cox said in a joint statement with Rep. Elise Stefanik (N.Y.), who chairs the House Republican Conference.
“New York Republicans will not give up the fight against gerrymandering and for free and fair elections. The people of New York deserve better than this,” Cox and Stefanik’s statement added.
The New York Democratic Party is “gratified” by the court’s decision, according to a statement from party chairman Jay S. Jacobs.
“Now we have the chance to see fairly drawn Congressional maps in New York. That is all that Democrats have ever wanted and we look forward to competing under the new lines this November,” Jacobs said.
House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said in a statement that the 2022 map “drawn by an unelected, out-of-town Special Master undercut the will of New York voters” and that the independent commission can now start “drawing fair maps.”
The decision in New York is the latest amid legal wrangling over redistricting across the country.
The U.S. Supreme Court handed down decisions twice this year that ruled against Alabama’s attempt to hold 2024 elections under a new congressional map judged to be an unlawful attempt to diminish the power of the state’s Black voters, most recently ruling in late September.
The Supreme Court also will take up a case involving South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District next term after a three-judge panel struck down the boundaries in October 2022, finding that they were in violation of the 14th Amendment.
In North Carolina, Black and Latino voters are seeking to strike down the state’s congressional map drawn by Republican state lawmakers this fall. Like the cases in other states, the plaintiffs argue that the map unconstitutionally weakens the voting power of North Carolina’s minority populations. Democrats are poised to lose as many as four House seats if the plan is kept in place.
The Republican-controlled Georgia legislature this week gave its final approval to a new congressional map that dismantles a predominantly minority district and provides a new court-ordered district with a Black majority. The new map protects Republicans’ political power in the state. But Democrats say the new map openly defies a federal judge’s order, which instructed the state to redraw congressional and state legislative map lines after finding the state’s existing maps violated the Voting Rights Act.
Marianna Sotomayor and Robert Barnes contributed to this report.