Will NY Congressional lines be redrawn?

Plaintiffs in Hoffman et al v. New York State Independent Redistricting Commission are seeking to have a state court order the IRC back to redraw the state’s congressional districts in time for the 2024 elections.

 In Albany County State Supreme Court, after reviewing the Harkenrider Intervenors’ memorandum in support of their motion to dismiss this case, Judge Peter Lynch released an Order to Show Cause on September 2nd  ordering the parties  to appear in person on September 12 at 1:30p.m. to explain why the Court should not grant the motion to dismiss. 

Following this order, in an affidavit filed September 8, Respondent David Imamura, Chair of the New York State Independent Redistricting Commission (“IRC”), asserted that the IRC has filled three vacancies and is now fully constituted with all ten commissioners. John Flateau was reappointed following his previous resignation from the Commission; Lisa Harris was appointed to replace Vice-Chair Jack Martins; and Yovan Samuel Collado was appointed to replace Eugene Benger.

With all ten commissioners in place, Imamura further maintained that the IRC has “no current staffing vacancies that would preclude [the Commission] from expeditiously undertaking the task of submitting a second round of proposed congressional districting plans” to the Legislature if ordered to do so by the Court.

Imamura also addressed a public statement that he, Respondents Frazier and Cuevas-Molina, Commissioner Flateau, and former Commissioner Benger released on January 24, 2022. He explained that the IRC did not declare its decision to not fulfill its constitutional duties, but instead that Republicans had engaged in a “repeated pattern of…obstructing the Commission [from] doing its job.”

Chair Imamura contended that he and Respondents Cuevas-Molina and Frazier, as they stated in a response filed the same day, do not oppose the relief set out in the first paragraph of Petitioners’ prayer for relief in the Amended Petition – that the Commission be ordered to fulfill its constitutional duty under the New York Constitution by submitting a second round of congressional lines to the legislature.

By Piper Benedict, New York Law School

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Mayor Adams Appoints NY City Redistricting Commission Members

NYC Mayor Eric Adams appointed his seven members to serve on the city council redistricting commission today. His appointees include:

Hon. Marilyn D. Go served as a federal Magistrate Judge for the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York from 1993 to 2019. She previously worked as an assistant U.S. Attorney in the Civil Division of the Eastern District of New York from 1978 to 1982. She then joined the law firm Baden Kramer Huffman Brodsky & Go, where she became a partner in 1984. Go began her career as clerk for Court of Common Pleas Judge William Marutani.

Maria Mateo, Esq. is a Queens resident and attorney. She founded her firm in 2011. Previously, she worked at the Immigration Tenant Advocacy Project in 2010 and Sanctuary for Families in 2009. Before that, she worked in the Department of Domestic Violence at the Queens District Attorney’s Office. Prior, she worked for the Presidency of the Dominican Republic as a bilingual attorney. She is an active member of the Latino Lawyers Association and Women’s Bar Association of New York.

Joshua Schneps is the CEO and publisher of Schneps Media, run by his family, which publishes dozens of local newspapers, magazines, and local websites in New York City, Long Island, and Westchester.

Lisa Sorin serves as President of the New Bronx Chamber of Commerce. Before, she was executive director of the Westchester Square District Management Association. Prior to that, she was head of LAS Consulting Services, Inc. She holds a B.A. and an M.S. in Business Leadership from Concordia College.

Msgr. Kevin Sullivan is executive director of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York. He previously served as chair of the 9/11 United Services Group, co-founded the Washington Heights-Inwood Coalition and the Northern Manhattan Improvement Corporation, and served as co-chair of the Partnership for the homeless. Before that, he was a parish priest at St. Elizabeth’s Church.

Dennis M. Walcott has served as president and CEO of Queens Public Library (QPL) since 2016. Prior to joining QPL, Walcott served as the state-appointed monitor of the East Ramapo School District. In 2014, he was named Honorary Distinguished Fellow at the University of the West Indies and he has been an adjunct professor at Fordham University’s graduate program, The Fordham Center for Nonprofit Leaders. Walcott previously served as Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education. Prior to his appointment as chancellor, he served as deputy mayor for education and community development.

Additional members were appointed by the City Council leadership last month. The Commission will select one member to serve as Chair. Final Maps are due in December.

Kai-Ki Wong is a career civil servant who most recently served as assistant chief plan examiner at the New York City Department of Buildings.

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NY Litigation Update: Harkenrider et al v. Hochul et al

On March 3, Steuben County State Supreme Court Judge Patrick McAllister permitted the challenge against the state’s new congressional and state senate maps to proceed, ruling that:

  • The case against the State Senate can be added to the case along with the Congressional challenge. 
  • The motion to dismiss with respect to the standing challenges was dismissed. 
  • The Governor and Lt. Governor would not be dismissed as respondents as they had requested.
  • Limited discovery would be permitted must conclude by March 12.
  • The 2022 elections will proceed using the new maps.

On March 1, the Petitioners submitted documents to support their position that the Congressional and State Senate maps are unconstitutional. They alleged that the maps are procedurally and substantively unconstitutional. The petitioners urged the court to pause election-related deadlines and to conduct no elections under the enacted maps. Instead, that alleged that the court should either adopt its own maps or allow a federal court to draw new maps. 

The petitioners also submitted a reply by their expert witness further supporting his report that they relied on in their claims. Additionally, the petitioners submitted documents stating that the respondents have no credible basis to contest the proposed amendment to their petition including the State Senate maps and supporting expedited discovery. 

On March 2, Governor Hochul and the Lt. Governor submitted a memo in support of their motion to dismiss the claims against them.

On March 3, an appeal was filed in the Appellate Division, Fourth Department.

The Respondents must submit their replies to the Senate amended complaint by March 10.

The parties will be back in court on March 14 and 9:30 am. 

Judge McAllister must rule by April 4. 

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Is the NY Congressional Plan A Gerrymander?

Guest Column by SUNY Binghamton Professor Jonathan Krasno

NYS’s congressional map has been derided as a partisan gerrymander by both Republicans and nonpartisan observers, mostly because Democrats are poised to gain seats under the new lines. Changes from the status quo is a poor way to evaluate any map. The facts here suggest that NYS’s map is not a partisan gerrymander by Democrats.

The problem with using the status quo as a baseline is obvious: it might be biased, too, no matter who created it. In the case of NYS’s congressional map, the mapmaker was officially nonpartisan, a federal magistrate judge. Lack of partisan motives is no guarantee of nonpartisan outcomes particularly in a state like NY.

The issue in NYS is the extreme concentration of its residents and Democrats in NYC. NYC makes up 44% of the state population (its metro area comprises 68%) and is overwhelmingly Democratic. NYC is unique, too, in that it is squeezed like the narrow part of an hourglass between the expansive territory of northern part of the state where 42% of the population resides and Long Island to the south where the remaining 14% lives.

That geography makes it difficult to draw a map that spreads many of NYC’s residents to other districts outside the city. That might seem like an odd thing to want to do, but it’s the core issue in creating a congressional map that reflects the political complexion of the whole state rather than region by region.

Here’s a simple illustration why using the current map. Trump’s share of the vote in the 8 House districts currently held by Republicans was @55% in 2016, @57% in 2020 – comfortable but hardly overwhelming margins. In the 19 districts held by Democrats, however, Clinton and Biden won @69% and @72% respectively. Blowouts.

That disparity reflects what in gerrymandering is called “packing,” putting a large number of one side’s voters in a small number of districts while spreading out the other side’s in a larger number. It turns out that NYS is so strongly Democratic that the congressional map packs Democratic voters and still leaves Democrats with 2/3rds of seats. But it’s also true that Democratic voters get a raw deal here in that their votes essentially count less than do Republican ones when it comes to winning House seats.

Does the new map do better? NYS loses one of its 27 seats, dropping the number to 26 and the expected partisan split becomes 22 to 4. In the 4 Republican districts Trump’s vote share increases to @64% in 2016 and @59% in 2016, while in the 22 Democratic districts Clinton’s vote remains @69 in 2016 and Biden’s falls a few points to @68% in 2020. The packing still favors Republicans, though by a little less.

That impression is supported by closer analysis. The easiest way to assess packing is to compare a party’s vote share in the median district to its average vote across all districts. The median is important because it reflects the pivot point in any legislature, the seat that must be carried for a party to win a majority of seats. The reason why a median and mean might be different is because one side has had a lot of its voters packed into a small number of districts.

This insight isn’t particularly profound; the idea first originated with a 19th century statistician who suggested it as an example to explain skewed distributions. For non-mathematical purposes this approach has the advantage of being especially easy to calculate and interpret.

In NYS’s proposed House map, Democrats’ presidential vote in the median House district was 57.5% in 2016 and 60.2% in 2020. If the map was fair, their mean vote across all 26 districts would be very close to the median. If the map was biased in favor of the Democrats, they would do better in the median district because they would have gerrymandered Republicans into a small number of districts.

In fact, the third option is what occurs – Democrats do better across the 26 districts on average than they do in the median district. The disparity is fairly large, too. Democrats averaged 64.1% across the 26 districts in 2016 and 63.8% in 2020. The difference between median and mean represents the anti-majoritarian bias in the map. For instance, in 2020 the difference between Democrats’ share in median and mean – 60.2 vs 63.3 = 3.1 points – reflects how much the party needs to win in excess of 50% to likely carry the median.

The actual numbers here take some time to digest, but the bottom line is simple. Just because NYS’s new congressional map has Democrats picking up seats doesn’t make it a partisan gerrymander. Closer analysis suggests that, if anything, the new map does only marginally better at resolving the geographical challenge posed by the concentration and location of NYC with its millions of voters. The new map is no Democratic gerrymander.

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Redistricting Fight In New York Shifts To Courts

Nick Reisman covers the new lawsuit challenging the state’s congressional map here. While the complaint (see last posting) seeks court rejection of the congressional map only, an additional challenge to the state legislative map is also anticipated.

From State of Politics: “The maps just signed into law are unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders that attempt to rig New York elections for the next decade in defiance of the will of the voters and with blatant disregard for New York’s Constitution,”  said attorneys Misha Tseytlin and Republican former state Sen. George Winner. “These new maps must be struck down.”  

Democratic lawmakers have said they expect the maps will be upheld under a court challenge. 

The new districts, part of the once-a-decade redistricting process, were submitted by Democratic lawmakers earlier this week after a bipartisan commission failed to reach an agreement on a set of maps.”

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Breaking News: First Lawsuit Filed Against New York Congressional Redistricting Plan

A complaint has been filed in Steuben County State Supreme Court seeking to prevent use of the congressional plan approved by the New York State Legislature yesterday. The case was filed by attorneys from Washington, DC, Chicago, IL and by former State Senator and redistricting commission member George Winner. The 14 plaintiffs reside in localities across the state. Defendants include the Governor, Lt. Governor, Senate President Pro Tem, Speaker of the Assembly, and LATFOR.

Plaintiffs are asking the court to reject the congressional plan, prevent its use in this year’s elections, draw a court plan or, alternatively, send the it mapping back to the legislature for a new map.

The state constitution requires the court to render a decision within 60 days. The decision is appealable to the Appellate DIvision and then to the Court of Appeals where the final decision will be made.

Here’s a copy of the complaint:

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Republicans Gearing Up for Redistricting Challenges

In Politics NY, I review recent court challenges to redistricting maps and why these challenges are hard to win.

In State of Politics, Nick Reisman takes a look at how the Republicans may be preparing for court challenges to the state’s new plans (yet to be signed by the Governor.

City & State’s Sara Dorn also looks at litigation in a column published today.

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Redistricting: Who Will Draw Your Lines?

Jeff Wice at New York Law School has authored a column on court challenges to redistricting.

“In 2012, the New York State Court of Appeals held  in a challenge to the increase in the size of the Senate that “acts of the Legislature are entitled to a strong presumption of constitutionality  and we will upset the balance struck by the Legislature and declare the [redistricting] plan unconstitutional only when it can be shown beyond reasonable doubt that it conflicts with the fundamental law, and that until every reasonable mode of reconciliation of the statute with the Constitution has been resorted to, and reconciliation has been found impossible.”

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New York Senate Majority Leader: If Needed, Legislature Will Re­dis­trict Rea­sonably; Zebrowski Appointed to LATFOR

In an interview with Casey Seiler of the Times Union that was livestreamed and as reported by Nick Reisman in Spectrum News, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said “We can draw maps that make sense, that are contiguous, that make sense and are rational and reasonable if we have to do that,” she told The Times Union’s Casey Seiler in a livestream interview Wednesday.

“In a related move on Tuesday, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie’s office announced Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski will serve as the co-chair of the Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment.”

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Will N.Y.’s Redistricting Commission Reach Consensus If There’s a Second Set of Maps?

In State of Politics, Tim Williams talked to NY Independent Redistricting Commission Vice Chair Jack Martins who discussed how the commission might reach consensus if the first set of maps are rejected by the state legislature.

““There are some people, who, perhaps if they are cynical, would think it was by design, understanding that this process automatically defaults to the Legislature,” Martins said. “

“….If both of the commission’s proposals are rejected by the Legislature, the Legislature would be in charge of drawing the new district lines. Martins said the commissioners are “committed” to delivering bipartisan district lines rather than having “lines drawn by politicians.”

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