[Editor’s note: Make sure to read Joseph Klein’s masterpiece contributions in Jamie Glazov’s new book: Barack Obama’s True Legacy: How He Transformed America.]
In order to take back control of the House of Representatives, the Democrats are eyeing several seats in New York that flipped to the Republicans in the 2022 midterm election cycle. Winning these seats was critical in securing the House majority for the Republicans. Now the Democrats want the seats back. But they are not content with simply taking their message to the voters and competing for their votes on the issues. Instead, the Democrats are trying to cheat their way to victory.
With the full support of the national House Democratic leadership, New York State Democrats are seeking a do-over of what is supposed to be a once-in-a-decade redistricting process based on the results of the most recent U.S. census. Last year the New York State Court of Appeals had ordered the drawing of competitive districts by a neutral court-appointed expert in advance of the 2022 midterm elections. The purpose was to replace the Democrat-controlled New York State Legislature’s flagrantly gerrymandered district maps that violated a New York State constitutional amendment adopted by the voters outlawing partisan gerrymandering. The Legislature had seized control of the redistricting process and corrupted it after the bipartisan Independent Redistricting Commission established by the constitutional amendment was deadlocked, leading to intervention by the Court of Appeals. Now the Democrats are trying to seize control of the redistricting process again to thwart fair congressional elections in 2024.
In a lawsuit funded by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Democrats are seeking to throw out the competitive districts that were drawn by order of the New York State Court of Appeals. The Democrats’ justification for their outrageous gambit is that these competitive districts were only valid for the 2022 elections and that the bipartisan commission needs to go back to work to redraw the districts for the remainder of the decade.
Never mind that the Court of Appeals did not indicate in its decision that its intent was only to order a limited, one-time temporary fix. In the absence of such an explicit statement of intent, the presumption should be that last year’s court-ordered congressional district maps are final and in place until after the 2030 census. The New York Constitution states:
“The process for redistricting congressional and state legislative districts established by this section and sections five and five-b of this article shall govern redistricting in this state except to the extent that a court is required to order the adoption of, or changes to, a redistricting plan as a remedy for a violation of law. A reapportionment plan and the districts contained in such plan shall be in force until the effective date of a plan based upon the subsequent federal decennial census taken in a year ending in zero unless modified pursuant to court order.” (NY Const, Art. III, § 4 [e])
The only modifications that the Court of Appeals ordered last year were to the unconstitutional maps that the Legislature drew up in its effort to rig the system. It makes no sense that the Court of Appeals contemplated giving the New York Legislature the opportunity so soon to manipulate the redistricting process again in advance of the 2024 elections.
The National Republican Campaign Committee correctly called the Democrats’ legal challenge “a blatant partisan power grab thinly disguised as a court case.” However, the Democrats’ cynical ploy is working so far. An intermediate appellate New York court, the Appellate Division of the of the State Supreme Court in Albany, agreed with the Democrats’ position. Its July 13th decision concluded that the Court of Appeals’ order last year applied only to the 2022 elections as a temporary fix to a procedural problem caused by the Independent Redistricting Commission’s failure to complete its work properly. The Appellate Division court majority found that the commission erred in not submitting a second set of redistricting maps to the Legislature after the first set went nowhere. The Appellate Division court ordered that the commission restart the redistricting process to correct this error.
Counting on the likelihood that the commission will once again be deadlocked, Democrats are salivating at the prospect that the Democrat-dominated New York State Legislature will again ultimately take over and manipulate the redistricting process to their partisan advantage.
Republicans have vowed to appeal the Appellate Division’s decision to the New York State Court of Appeals. But they are likely to have an uphill battle since the composition of New York’s highest court has moved decidedly to the left since 2022. Judge Rowan D. Wilson, a liberal, dissented from the Court of Appeals’ 2022 decision. In 2023, he replaced the prior chief judge who resigned a few months after writing the majority decision concluding that Democratic legislative leaders had created gerrymandered congressional district maps in violation of the New York State Constitution. Liberal Caitlin Halligan in turn was confirmed to fill the vacancy left by Judge Wilson’s promotion from associate judge to chief judge, creating a 4-3 liberal majority on the Court of Appeals.
With these changes, the risk to fair congressional elections in New York next year is that today’s more progressive Court of Appeals will reverse the 2022 decision by what was then a more centrist Court of Appeals that mandated competitively drawn congressional districts. The Democrats could well win via litigation before a receptive court what they fear they cannot win legitimately at the ballot box in fair elections.