WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Thursday, July 13, an appellate state court ordered New York’s Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC) to redraw the state’s congressional map. This decision stems from a lawsuit brought in June 2022 by New York voters, alleging that the IRC failed to complete its mandatory redistricting duties.
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 petitioners in the lawsuit argued 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 the state 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.” After the trial court dismissed the case in September 2022, the petitioners appealed the court’s dismissal of the lawsuit to a state appellate court.
In today’s order, 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 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 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.”