BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The seven-judge panel that makes up the New York state Court of Appeals heard arguments Wednesday about whether to allow the Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC) another chance to draw new congressional lines.
An independent special master drew the lines with judicial oversight prior to the 2022 elections after the state's highest court concluded the IRC had failed to fulfill its constitutional duty. It also ruled there was evidence the map the state Legislature ultimately drew was gerrymandered.
"The goal is for the congressional map to be drawn according to the process that New Yorkers voted for," Aria Branch, an attorney for the petitioners, said.
In the latest lawsuit, attorneys representing various state entities and petitioners argued there was the urgency of an imminent election when the court took over the redistricting process last year and that map should be considered temporary. They are asking the judges to compel the IRC to reconvene and draw new maps that will better honor the spirit of a 2014 constitutional amendment approved by state voters.
"If you read the Constitution altogether as we must, it's clear that the IRC and the Legislature can draw maps at the beginning of the decade but they can also draw maps to remedy violations of law," Branch said.
However, attorneys representing the original Republican-led intervenors said there shouldn't be new maps until after the 2030 federal Census. They said the court-drawn maps were the correct remedy, the Constitution does not allow for mid-decade revisions unless the current lines are defective, and that petitioners missed deadlines to bring the action anyway.
"We think upholding the independence of this process and upholding what the people voted for against partisan gerrymandering, that's what this case was all about and that's why the Democrats are here in court today trying to overturn it, because they want to get back to doing partisan gerrymandering," GOP advisor John Faso said.
New York Republicans gained four seats in the 2022 elections for the House of Representatives and with the GOP holding a narrow margin of power, the court's decision could have a major national impact. One judge pointed out, because there was evidence of gerrymandering in the state Legislature-drawn map, if the court allows the IRC another chance, the new lines would have to be substantially different from that one.