WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Tuesday, Sept. 19, the New York Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court, declined to unpause a decision that required the New York Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC) to reconvene and draw a new congressional map.
This is the latest action in a lawsuit filed on behalf of voters arguing that the IRC failed to complete its mandatory redistricting duties when the commission deadlocked in January 2022, leading the Legislature, and not the IRC, to pass a congressional map.
The rules of the IRC are such that if the Legislature votes down two map proposals, the Legislature then draws the maps. After the release of 2020 census data in April 2021, the commission could not reach a consensus on new maps so it presented two different plans to the Legislature — one by Democratic members of the IRC and one by Republican members of the IRC — and the Legislature rejected both. The IRC never presented a second set of maps to the Legislature. The Legislature enacted maps but ultimately, the Legislature-drawn congressional and state Senate maps were struck down in state court and replaced with new maps for the 2022 elections.
The petitioners in the lawsuit argue that the IRC’s failure to submit a second set of congressional and legislative maps to the New York Legislature “not only stymied the constitutional procedure enacted by New York voters, but also resulted in a map that does not properly reflect the substantive redistricting criteria contained in the Redistricting Amendments.”
The petitioners asked a state trial court to issue a writ of mandamus (a court order compelling a specific action) directing the IRC and its members to “fulfill their constitutional duty” by submitting new map proposals that could be adopted “immediately following the 2022 elections.” The trial court dismissed the case in September 2022 and the petitioners appealed the court’s dismissal of the lawsuit to a state appellate court.
The appellate court agreed with the petitioners, ruling that the IRC must redraw the state’s congressional map and submit the map to the Legislature. The July 13, 2023 order states that “[t]he IRC had an indisputable duty under the NY Constitution to submit a second set of maps upon the rejection of its first set…The language of NY Constitution…makes clear that this duty is mandatory, not discretionary. It is undisputed that the IRC failed to perform this duty.”
The appellate court concluded that democracy relies on the IRC completing its mandatory duty: “The right to participate in the democratic process is the most essential right in our system of governance. The procedures governing the redistricting process, all too easily abused by those who would seek to minimize the voters’ voice and entrench themselves in the seats of power, must be guarded as jealously as the right to vote itself; in granting this petition, we return the matter to its constitutional design. Accordingly, we direct the IRC to commence its duties forthwith.”
After the IRC was ordered to reconvene, Republican intervenors and members of the IRC filed notices of appeal. As a result, the decision requiring the IRC to reconvene was automatically paused. Today the court confirmed this. The petitioners asked New York’s highest court to void the automatic pause, but the court declined to do so. While this decision does not prevent the IRC from reconvening on its own volition, the IRC is not currently required by the court to do so.
Oral argument will be held in New York’s highest court on Nov. 15, 2023 which will finally determine if the IRC must reconvene to draw a new congressional map.