The New York Supreme Court is set to rule on redistricting litigation that Republicans fear will undermine their 2022 congressional gains.
The state’s highest court heard oral arguments on Nov. 15 from the New York attorney general’s office, members of the New York State Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC), and New York voters.
At issue in Anthony S. Hoffman v. New York State IRC, filed in Albany, is whether a current congressional map is invalid because it was drawn by a special master appointed to the IRC in the matter of Harkenrider v. Hochul by Steuben County Judge Patrick McAllister.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) labeled Judge McAllister as biased on his website.
“The current congressional map was drawn by an unelected, out-of-town Special Master appointed by an extreme right-wing judge who himself was handpicked by partisan political operatives,” Mr. Jeffries said in a July 13 statement. “It’s important that the Independent Redistricting Commission get to work expeditiously and present a map that fairly reflects the racial, ethnic, cultural, regional, and socioeconomic diversity of our great state.”
Plaintiffs and their allies allege in their petition for writ of mandamus that the special master was meant to be a temporary solution while Republican commissioners took issue with the timeliness of the challenge.
“A mandamus is supposed to force a governmental entity to do something, and it accrues when the governmental entity hasn't done what you want them to do,” attorney and former New York Republican congressman John Faso told The Epoch Times. “That’s the time to file a mandamus. They waited too late.”
Two IRC members are appointed by the New York state Senate majority leader and two by the temporary president, according to the IRC website. Two are appointed by the state Assembly speaker, and two are appointed by the state Assembly minority leader. The eight appointees then are charged with choosing the final two members who can't have been a Democrat or Republican for the past five years.
“In this case, the Democratic commissioners want to go back to work and finish the process, and the Republican commissioners, through their counsel, believe the process ended last year and need not be revisited,” New York Law School professor Jeffrey Wice told The Epoch Times. “This gets down to politics. The Democrats and Republicans are both looking to control the House of Representatives.”
Mr. Wice, a senior fellow at the New York Census and Redistricting Institute, teaches redistricting and voting rights.
Mr. Hoffman, the lead plaintiff in a group of 10 New Yorkers, sued the IRC and its members on June 28, 2022, alleging that the congressional map violates redistricting provisions created by a constitutional amendment that New York voters approved in 2021.
The plaintiffs requested an order requiring the IRC to draw a second redistricting plan, but Albany Judge Peter Lynch dismissed them in September 2022.
“Republican interveners argue that it's just a natural given the map developed by the state court last year was to last for the entire decade, but the court never said that last year,” Mr. Wice said. “We're really getting down to a procedural debate.”
Among other reforms, the constitutional amendment ushered in the creation of the bipartisan IRC to facilitate drawing lines independent of the Legislature.
Under the existing map, Republicans flipped four congressional seats from blue to red in the November 2022 elections.
“Democrats only filed this case when they saw the lines the special master drew, which are competitive congressional districts,” Mr. Faso said. “Democrats do not want competitive congressional seats. They want sure things.”
Mr. Wice predicted that the looming state Supreme Court decision would come down to a 4–3 vote because justices Anthony Cannataro, Madeline Singas, and Michael Garcia made it clear in their questions that they don't want a new congressional map.
"This decision might depend on how Chief Judge Rowan Wilson decides the case and whether he can get three other judges to side with him depending on whether he supports the congressional remapping through the Legislature and Commission," Mr. Wice said.
During initial arguments, which were held in Buffalo on Nov. 15, attorney Timothy Hill argued on behalf of the Republican commissioners.
“My legal position is that the courts have no authority to order interim maps,” he said.
However, Jenner & Block attorney Jessica Ring Amunson, who represented the Democrat commissioners, countered that the court potentially does have the power to enforce orders against the IRC.
“That has happened in other courts where it has been at least contemplated to hold Independent Redistricting Commission members in contempt for not fulfilling their duties,” she said.
Andrea Trento, assistant solicitor general in the New York attorney general's office, sided with Ms. Amunson and the plaintiffs, arguing that the current map is defective.
“Petitioners here are entitled to relief because the current congressional map, to the extent it is used in elections that take place in 2024 and beyond, fails to conform to that process enacted by the voters and therefore must be remedied,” he said.
The state Supreme Court is expected to rule on the case before the end of 2023.
“It's pretty clear there's a lot of skepticism about the timeliness of the Democrats’ [legal] proceeding,” Mr. Faso added. “That would be an easy way for the court to resolve a sticky political problem.”