New York’s Highest Court Dismisses Challenge to State’s Assembly Map

WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Thursday, April 20, the New York Court of Appeals (the state’s highest court) dismissed an appeal of a lawsuit challenging New York’s state Assembly map drawn with 2020 census data. Yesterday’s dismissal simply confirmed the fact that after litigation last year, the New York Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC) is expected to send a redrawn Assembly map to the Legislature. The IRC did so earlier in the day yesterday.

Originally filed in May 2022 by the president of the Young Republican Club, a Democratic primary candidate for governor and a Democratic write-in candidate for New York state Senate, this case took an unusual and convoluted path through multiple court levels before ending up in the state’s highest court. 

The petitioners who filed the lawsuit argued that the state Assembly map violated the New York Constitution because the Legislature bypassed the citizen-led IRC’s authority to enact the districts in violation of a 2014 constitutional amendment. The petitioners asked the court to invalidate the Assembly map and adopt a new map drawn by a court-appointed special master (an official appointed by a judge to carry out an action, in this instance, a redistricting expert). In addition, the petitioners asked the state trial court to delay the primary elections.

On May 25, 2022, the trial court denied the petitioners’ requests for a preliminary injunction and simultaneously denied their petition. The petitioners appealed this ruling to an intermediate appellate court, which agreed with petitioners’ argument that the Assembly map was enacted through an unconstitutional process, but held that it was too late to adopt a new map for the 2022 elections. The intermediate appellate court sent the case back to the trial court so a new map could be adopted after the 2022 midterm elections. Then, in September 2022, the trial court ordered the IRC to draw a new Assembly map in compliance with the New York Constitution and to submit it to the Legislature for approval by April 28, 2023. 

The petitioners appealed the trial court’s September decision ordering the IRC to redraw the Assembly map to an intermediate appellate court, once again arguing that the trial court itself (as opposed to the IRC) should redraw the Assembly map. The appellate court then issued a decision affirming the trial court’s decision to have the map redrawn, which the petitioners then appealed to New York’s highest court, the New York Court of Appeals. On April 20, the state’s highest court dismissed this appeal, meaning that the IRC will still remain in charge of redrawing a new state Assembly map for approval by the Legislature in accordance with the trial court’s September 2022 order. 

Separately, on April 20, the IRC voted 9-1 to approve a new state Assembly map. Now, the Assembly map approved by the IRC will go to the Legislature for a vote and then to the governor for approval. If either chamber of the Legislature fails to approve the new map or if the map is vetoed by the governor, the IRC must prepare a second proposed redistricting plan by June 16, 2023. According to the Redistrict Network, the map is “nearly identical” to the map drawn by the Legislature in 2022 and is likely to get the support it needs to pass in the Legislature. On April 21, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund released a statement in which it argues that the new Assembly plan divides “Asian American communities in Queens and in south Brooklyn,” and states that the plan potentially violates the Voting Rights Act. 

Read the order here.

Learn more about the case here.