WASHINGTON, D.C. — New York’s highest court held oral argument today in a redistricting lawsuit to determine if the state will have a new congressional map before 2024, a much-anticipated decision that could impact control of Congress.
Today’s argument is the latest action in a lawsuit filed last year on behalf of voters arguing that the state’s Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC) failed to complete its mandatory redistricting duties when the commission deadlocked in January 2022. As a result, the Legislature, and not the IRC, passed a congressional map.
The case is before the highest court after an appellate court over the summer ordered the IRC to reconvene, finding that the map-drawing process — as laid out in the constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2014 — was not properly followed. In that same order, the court also acknowledged that the Legislature-drawn congressional map was a partisan gerrymander.
The Republican intervenors then appealed the decision to the New York Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court.
Throughout oral argument this afternoon, judges and parties alike discussed Harkenrider v. Hochul — the case brought by Republican voters responsible for New York’s current special master drawn congressional map. As a reminder, the current map is in place after Republican voters challenged the original Legislature-drawn map. In late April, the state’s highest court struck down that map and ordered a special master to draw a new one.
The lawsuit before the court today solely focuses on the procedure that led to the current map — that the IRC did not submit a second set of maps to the Legislature — and not the map itself.
In the opening statements from the attorney representing the Republican voters who brought the first lawsuit that struck down the map), Chief Judge Rowan Wilson asked, “Would you agree that the preferred method under our constitution is [that] the IRC create maps?” The attorney confirmed, “Absolutely” but then clarified that the state constitution dictates that “if [the IRC] doesn’t [perform its duty], then the courts got to step in.”
One of the Republican voters’ main concerns was mid-decade redistricting, pointing out that legislators drawing the map “know where the incumbents are, know where the close districts are and know how to take them out.”
Judge Jenny Rivera then asked if the Republican IRC members’ refusal to reconvene to submit a second set of maps, given their distaste in “the way other members are drawing the districts,” is a similar “gaming [of] the system.” In response, the attorney deflected, arguing that the lawsuit was filed too late.
Both the Republican voters and Republican-appointed IRC members argued that New York voters failed to bring the lawsuit in a timely manner and, instead, the plaintiffs should have brought the case within four months of the 2022 maps’ enactment. According to the Republican voters, the clock began on Jan. 24 2022, when the commission announced it had deadlocked.
The plaintiffs brought this current lawsuit on June 28, emphasizing that it wasn’t clear that the Jan. 24 date would have been the right time to file since the process hadn’t yet concluded.
The attorney representing the New York voters clarified the lawsuit’s primary goal: for the IRC to follow the constitutionally mandated process. Specifically, the congressional map is supposed to be drawn according to the “IRC legislative process set forth in the Constitution.” Put simply, the attorney concluded that “the goal is to have fair maps that are drawn through a transparent process” and New York voters were denied that opportunity.
The court did not indicate when it would rule in the case.