Court Orders New Round of Congressional Redistricting

The New York Court of Appeals—New York’s highest state court—has consigned beleaguered New York voters to yet another chaotic round of congressional redistricting. The implications of its decision may be felt nationwide.

On December 12, 2023, the Court of Appeals issued a 4-3 decision in Hoffman v. Independent Redistricting Commission. In Hoffman, the Court held that the court-ordered congressional redistricting maps that went into effect just last year were only intended to be used in the 2022 elections and not for the rest of the decade. Accordingly, New York’s congressional district maps will be redrawn by the New York State Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC).

The opportunity to replace the current maps is a win for New York Democrats. Last year, the IRC was unable to reach agreement on a set of congressional district maps, so the New York State Legislature drew its own maps. Those maps were blatantly gerrymandered,[1] and they were found unconstitutional in the case of Harkenrider v. Hochul. A court-ordered referee was appointed to draw the maps. Under those maps, Republicans prevailed in 11 of 26 congressional elections in 2022 (an unusually good result for New York Republicans in recent years), helping their party to take a narrow majority in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The IRC is required to propose new congressional district maps by the end of next February. If the IRC completes this task, the Democrat-controlled Legislature will determine whether to approve the maps. Ultimately, if the Legislature is displeased with the maps drawn by the IRC, it is entitled to create its own maps. In fact, that is probably the Democrats’ plan. According to The New York Times, the Democrats are “widely expected” to engage in gerrymandering to “target as many as six Republican-held swing seats” in the House of Representatives.

New York Republicans decried the court’s decision and questioned the court’s impartiality. “‘The Court’s decision today is plainly wrong on the Constitution and the law. In their relentless pursuit of power at all costs, corrupt Democrats in Albany and Washington have politicized the Court of Appeals,’ New York State Republican Committee Chairman Ed Cox and Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-Schuylerville) said in a joint statement. ‘Its once esteemed reputation is in tatters.’” State Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt (R-North Tonawanda) added, “‘Instead of respecting the will of the voters and the initial ruling by the Court of Appeals, Democrats doubled down and stacked the Court, weaponizing our judicial system in an effort to get the decision they wanted. This decision diminishes the voice of millions of New Yorkers who demanded fairness, transparency and accountability in the redistricting process and marks the beginning of an era of partisan decision-making in New York’s highest court.’”

[1] Gerrymandering—the practice of unfairly drawing legislative district lines for the benefit of a political party—is, sadly, engaged in by both parties in the United States. Regardless of which party engages in gerrymandering, it is unethical. In New York, it is also unconstitutional.


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