Thanks, in part, to a Democratic failure on redistricting, New York state helped to flip the U.S. House of Representatives to a Republican majority. But Democrats in New York (and nationally) are looking to the courts to give them another shot at drawing district lines in the hopes of flipping the House back to blue in 2024. 

A case heard on Thursday by the state Court Appellate Division in Albany could give Democrats that chance. 

A quick refresher: After the state’s Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC) couldn’t agree on congressional lines in 2022, the Legislature took it upon itself to create new maps. Republicans challenged those maps and the state’s courts ruled that it was inappropriate for the Legislature to have stepped in. The courts directed a special master to draw congressional maps instead.

In Hoffman v. Independent Redistricting Commission, Democrats are arguing that the judge who originally threw out the legislative maps didn’t mean for the special master’s maps to be used throughout the next 10 years, only through 2022.

“The plaintiffs are arguing that the 2022 map that was ordered by a judge in Steuben County was a temporary plan meant for the tight time-frame crunch. (They argue) no place in the judge’s decision did he say that this shall be a plan for the entire decade,” New York Law School Adjunct Professor and Senior Fellow Jeff Wice told Capital Tonight. 

Here’s the case. 

When asked what he took away from Thursday's arguments, Wice said he thinks there is still some life left in the case.

“There were five judges on the appellate division panel. But unlike the judge last year who ruled against the plaintiffs, I thought the court today was a little…friendlier,” Wice said. “While not all the judges engaged in conversation, they were receptive.”

Whatever the decision, it will likely be appealed to the state’s Court of Appeals.

When asked why Democrats believe that they will see a different result if this issue again goes to the state’s highest court, Wice pointed to two reasons. 

“Because the lineup of the state Court of Appeals is different this year than it had been last year,” Wice said, referring to former Chief Judge Janet DiFiore’s exit from the court and the confirmation of new Chief Judge Rowan Wilson. “Additionally, they are not seeking to override or overturn last year’s decision. They are simply working to get the commission (IRC) to get back to work.”

In other words, Democrats are fine if last year’s decision remains in place, because they argue, it was limited to 2022. 

There are a lot of “ifs” here. 

If the courts agree with the Democrats’ arguments, the IRC will get another chance at drawing congressional maps. If that’s the case, the commission will again be required to hold 12 hearings throughout the state in a timely manner. If the bipartisan commission can come up with maps they agree on this time, the Legislature will need to approve those maps by March 2024.